Cognition, Technology & Work

, Volume 7, Issue 2, pp 134–140 | Cite as

Collaborative elasticity and breakdowns in high reliability organizations: contributions from distributed cognition and collective mind theory

  • Paul C. van Fenema
Original Article


Collaborative elasticity is the capability of a collective to sustain coherence and sufficient order, even when encountering unexpected and adverse operating conditions. This capability is increasingly important in today’s dynamic and time-pressed world. Drawing on distributed cognition and collective mind theory, this conceptual paper presents a taxonomy of six dimensions that determine collaborative elasticity and may explain organizational breakdowns: individual cognition, relating and relationships, repertoire of routines, knowledge for collaboration, organizational roles and communications. The paper focuses on High Reliability Organizations (HRO) where people work with advanced technologies and routinely face potential danger. The objective of this conceptual paper is to explore why these organizations have to operate elastically, and what may cause them to breakdown. The findings support practitioners involved in HROs. For researchers, the study defines and frames the concept of collaborative elasticity using distributed cognition and collective mind theory. The paper concludes with pointers for further research.


Coordination breakdown Collaborative elasticity Distributed cognition Collective mind 



I am grateful to Kuldeep Kumar, Kevin Crowston and colleagues at the Rotterdam School of Management for general discussions on this paper’s topic. Specifically I want to thank Cristina Chisalita, Peter H. Jones, and participants of the Second International Workshop on Analyzing Collaborative Activity (Amsterdam, 2003) for their thought provoking questions, discussions and insights. Funding for this research was provided by the Erasmus Research Institute for Management, Rotterdam School of Management, and Florida International University.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag London Limited 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Erasmus UniversityRotterdamThe Netherlands

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