Posted March 30th 2010 at 2:51 pm by
in CoLab Philosophy

What is the glue that holds CoLab together?

My family provided the unit of collaboration needed to operate within the chaotic political structure of Peru during the first two decades of my life. The home and the family business, a mechanic garage, were our platforms for collaboration. Administrative roles were rigid while domestic roles were flexible. For instance, in the mechanic garage my mother solely administered financial operations, my father was in charge of staff, and my brother and I performed cleaning and staff support tasks. Administrative and domestic chores were essential contributions to the family’s economic health. In the middle of a sea of chaos and uncertainty, the home and the mechanic garage represented the boat that was going to take us to firm land, and we were all in the same boat. Hope was the glue that held together my family as a unit of collaboration.

An architectural project team provided the unit of collaboration needed to operate within the competitive business environment of Dallas, Texas during my mid twenties. The architectural project structure was the platform for collaboration. The division of labor was ultimately based on cost to the project. For instance, a project team usually consisted of one expensive manager, a couple of moderately expensive coordinators and several affordable team members, like me. Accomplishing tasks on time was essential to the firm’s economic health. A set of predetermined paths for professional success steered my relationship with the project team. Money was the glue that held together the architectural project team as a unit of collaboration.

Today I am working with a team of people that provides a potential unit of collaboration needed to take a stand on the challenge of inequitable development around the world. A plethora of platforms for collaboration, such as comprehensive community-based development projects and academic activities are emerging in our work place: CoLab. The division of labor is mischievously creative. For instance, we enjoy the freedom to avail ourselves of a diverse array of personal and professional resources to accomplish our project goals and our own goals. Relationships are essential contributions to our emotional and economic health. Faced with many uncertainties: the future of our nation, the future of our nascent organization, our own professional future, what will be the glue that holds us together as a unit of collaboration?

Carlos Espinoza-Toro is a Program Manager at CoLab.  He coordinates the Mel King Community Fellows Program.

7 responses to “What is the glue that holds CoLab together?”

  1. Lily Song says:

    I like the different concepts you provide in the post. The idea of rigid vs. flexible roles within units of collaboration is very interesting. What are the different conditions that allow for rigid vs. flexible roles? Does trust play a role?

  2. Several conditions allowed the combination of rigid vs flexible roles within my family:

    – Lack of Institutional Support. My mother’s role on finances was rigid because institutional support for creative financing was not in place and therefore she had to avail herself with the very basic technical support she had: very basic accounting. The way in which my brother and I used our time was flexible because labor chores were more diverse. There were many gaps we could cover: cleaning the place, cleaning parts, helping the staff.

    – Super Constrained Mission. Our reality constrained our mission to basics: Generate revenue for family budget. Again, my mother’s role on finances was simple: to make sure the revenue is met and to keep it safe. My brother and I on the other hand, could give more meanings to our labor. Cleaning could become fun if you are playing games while doing it, or you could learn people skills while dealing with clients, etc.

    There might be other conditions.

    In regards to trust.

    As a family we shared a common bond of blood. This common bond is probably the strongest source of trust. Also, in the absence of trust at the higher institutional level (neighborhood, municipality, state) our trust for each other grew exponentially. As I reflect on this, yes! trust played a crucial role.

  3. Not to sound geeky, but you’re describing what folks like Henry Jenkins call a “participatory culture,” usually when referring to Web 2.0 and new media technologies. They define it as places where there are relatively low barriers to entry, creating/sharing is paramont, informal mentorship is the real authority, members feel that their contributions matter and feel some degree of social connection and trust with each other (see But the real barometer of these cultures is transparency….I’d love to hear your thoughts on CoLa and it’s ability to be transparent both internally with staff and students, and externally with its academic and community stakeholders. (To see more of what I mean, see a recent blog post on “How Mozilla and Open Source Culture Can Inform Open Government Initiatives”

  4. Alexa Mills says:

    Hi Carlos. I have been thinking about your question.

    Strong rules and regulatory structures held your architecture firm together. This doesn’t work at an organization like CoLab because there is no established path to achieve our mission, as it is outlined in Dayna’s Post on CoLab’s goals.

    Yesterday I was thinking about how other groups hold themselves together. I think shared experiences can hold people together. For example, I although I have mixed feelings about my college experience, I do feel bound to other alums of the place, because we all have had the unique experience of spending 4 years in some of the most punishing weather available in the United States, and working upwards of 15 hours a day, day after day.

    On a smaller scale, (American) fraternities unite their members through a shared experience of hazing members for initiation.

    CoLab is a little more gentle than all that 🙂 I wonder if our culture of constant “reflective practice” (or, in simple terms talking through the stuff you’re doing as you’re doing it) makes us into a unit of some sort.

  5. Martha says:

    Carlos, I enjoyed your story!

    I think we do have in CoLab a place to explore and test our ideas, I feel nurtured by the freedom to think and reflect with each of the team.

    Is it freedom to explore and express our differences essential for CoLab’s spirit?

  6. Christina says:

    Cjet, I think that the glue in CoLab is that the work is mission-based, and that all of the staff believe in the mission. Everyone comes to CoLab ready to give their all to this work because they believe in it. I also think that there is a team mentality, that the work succeeds not because of one person’s single effort, but because of everyone’s contribution. Lastly, CoLab is fun, and that is always a good thing for students, faculty, staff, and partners who are constantly working around the clock.

  7. Lily, Danielle, Alexa, Martha and Christina,

    Thank you for your comments. They represent what I was looking for as I wrote my blog: an answer from all of you about what holds us together.

    Thanks to you I understand that what holds CoLab together is:

    – Freedom to Think and Reflect

    – Creating and Sharing

    – Informal Mentorship (not a rigid one)

    – Shared Experiences

    – Constant Reflective Practice

    – Freedom to explore and express differences

    – Mission-based work

    – Belief in the mission

    – Team Mentality, Contribution

    – Fun Environment

    – My own personal one: COMMON DREAM OR VISION

    Now I would like to work with all of you to strengthen this glue that holds us together in an intentional manner for us to grow even stronger.

    Thanks for your responses again,