What did we discover?
Firstly, our study found that GCC trailblazers are personally invested in and live by their ethics. A GCC trailblazer embodies a personal code of ethics, i.e. their own, personal values and ethical principles, to make strategic decisions and define the boundaries of the GCC and the project. A personal code of ethics determines and distinguishes between acceptable and unacceptable intentions, motivations, beliefs, behaviours, and actions for oneself, but also for collaborators. It defines the obligations that the GCC trailblazer believes they and others ought to and must fulfil and the red lines they and others ought to and must not cross; and it gives rise to ethical dilemmas. This makes ethics in GCCs a matter that is principally personal and private, and subjective even in the presence of established professional codes of ethics, as is the case in the medical profession.
Secondly, we found that when personal codes of ethics were violated, intense episodes of violent rupture - a decisive rift - were experienced in the collaboration. In the best case, such incidents involved a fierce “discussion” between collaborators, and, in the worst, they extended to physical violence and visceral reactions to the violation of one’s personal code of ethics. Such incidents caused uncontrollable, material damages and were detrimental for those involved, the project or both.
Thirdly, our research reveals that GCC trailblazers resolve ethical disputes or dilemmas in - what this study defines as - one’s ethics shelter, a personal, notional space in one’s mind or one’s ethical ‘comfort zone’ where the GCC trailblazer debates alternative courses of action, decides what they are prepared to do and not do in the GCC, and makes key, strategic decisions for the collaboration before meeting colleagues, collaborators and strategic partners in GCCs – all based on their personal code of ethics.
Finally, the study shows conclusively that - as symbolic systems of meaning – the personal codes of ethics of GCC trailblazers are concealed and escape project governance structures. They remain in the blind spot of high-stakes GCCs limiting transparency in the decision-making process, and lie dormant until they are challenged and become the force that explicitly (re-)defines the boundaries.