I am currently a graduate student in the field of Communications – specifically - Public and Organizational Relations.  While taking a Spring 2014 class on Leadership and Collaboration, I had to write a paper about a collaborative organization I have had experience with.  Since I had never worked in an environment that was the least bit collaborative, especially not by the definition we were using in class, I was forced to come up with other ideas.  I thought about Beauty & the Beast Fandom, and Winterfest On-line.  I asked my professor if this was okay, expecting him to say no because Fandom is not a “real” organization.  Just the opposite happened.  My professor thought this was a good topic, and I was stunned to learn that he actually knew what a Fandom was. 

After reading my paper, he seemed even more interested in this topic.  It seems that Beauty & the Beast Fandom is a very interesting case study to Communication Researchers because we began before the internet and then migrated there all on our own.  We now have this Fandom that is spread between the online and offline worlds – a unique situation.  For this project, I even had to come up with an Organizational Chart that would somehow express this situation.  I thought long and hard about how, exactly, to do this, but I was very happy with the result.  My professor also said that he would like to see me expand this topic and use it for my thesis.  This really was the icing on the cake for me.  I would love to write more about my experiences with Beauty & the Beast Fandom!  I had even been a little worried about finding a topic that would interest me for such a long and intense paper.  So…who knew?  I mean, I knew that Beauty & the Beast Fandom was very special – I’ve known that for years – but here is a brand new way that it is special to add to the already long list!


Collaborating within Organizations


Rosemarie Salvatore
Montclair State University
April 9, 2014


CMST 556: Leadership & Collaborative Innovation
Case Report #3: Collaborating within Organizations




Exposition of the Organization
In 1987, a television program premiered on CBS called “Beauty & the Beast.” This show attracted loyal fans from all over the world. Today, with the help of the internet, it is much more common for TV shows to have active fan followings. But at that time, it was largely unheard of outside of Star Trek, which had had this sort of following twenty years earlier, starting in the late 1960s.

The fan group started with small groups of fans forming local fan clubs around the country. People began putting out fan fiction and newsletters and connecting with other fans. Most also took some form of volunteer action in their communities because that was in keeping with the values portrayed on the show. There were a few professionally run fan conventions in the late 1980s and early 1990s, but since this group is not as big as Star Trek’s followers, the professionals soon realized that they could not make big money and stopped having them. That was when the fans themselves took over. They began to collaborate and have their own yearly conventions. I have been attending these yearly, fan run Beauty & the Beast conventions for the last 25 years.

In some ways, Beauty & the Beast Fandom might be considered a production-oriented organization since there is a large amount of creativity that produces fan fiction, music videos, t-shirts and other kinds of craft merchandise that can be bought at conventions. On the other hand, it is primarily, I think, a service-oriented organization. Since, in addition to servicing each other with a yearly convention and sightseeing opportunities around the country, we also have a long standing tradition to raise money for charity at each convention. A charity that promotes the values of the show is chosen and events are held during the weekend to benefit that charity. At other times, though, especially concerning the case study for this paper, Beauty & the Beast Fandom might even be considered an innovative-orientated organization.

The Organization’s Structure
Because Beauty & the Beast Fandom began at a time before the internet, there is a large period of its history that involved traditional means of communication. Most people stuck with their local fan groups and only saw the larger fan community once a year at the in-person convention. Those who did become friends with people who lived in other states or other countries would write letters to “pen pals” – a term that is hardly known these days – or they would have very costly phone bills.

When the internet came along, things slowly migrated there. Paper newsletters died off and Yahoo Groups were created. Now fans from all over the world could be in touch with each other on a daily basis. Even fan fiction, once published in “fanzines” that were somewhat frowned upon by The Powers That Be, also moved online for all to see and enjoy.

However, not all fans took to the internet. Many long time fans do not participate in on-line fandom. At the same time, new fans are finding the show because of that very same online activity. In 2007, to mark the 20th anniversary of the show, the series was released on DVD for the first time. This brought in a whole new wave of fans. Some remembered the show from their childhoods, others had loved it all along and just never connected with the group, still others watched it for the first time and fell in love with it as if it was a brand new show. But all of them had the same idea. They Googled “Beauty and the Beast” and found a whole new world.

Because of this duel nature of the group, it can best be described as a pair of overlapping circles (please see the diagram below). The blue circle on the left represents the Traditional Fandom made up of fans who remember the first airing of the show. The red circle on the right represents the Online Fandom who tend to be younger fans who either do not remember the original airing of the series, or remember being very young when it was on. The overlapping purple area shows the group of fans that take part in both aspects of Fandom. They tend to be a core group of dedicated people who were truly moved by the vision that the show inspired in them. Most likely, as time goes on, the purple section will widen, but the circles can never truly overlap completely, because of the group’s history. For example, there are some highly sought after fanzines that authors refuse to post online. There is also a newer, online fan that agreed to take over the fandom’s collection of paper fanzines – creating an “online library” - which fans can use if they want to read these older, out of print stories that cannot be accessed any other way.


Case Study
Most people who have been to a Beauty and the Beast convention feel that it is a wonderful experience. In 2003, the convention was in San Francisco and a new fan from Italy attended for the first time. She was new to, and a little wary about, the whole fandom experience. She had found the online fandom just a few months before, and was happy to communicate with friends who shared her love. Up until then, she believed that she was the only one on the planet who remembered the show. It had taken some convincing to get her to San Francisco, but the experience left her totally flabbergasted. She returned to Italy starry eyed, determined to find ways to share with her fellow fans some of the wonders she had enjoyed. She knew that many could not attend in person conventions for reasons of distance and cost, just to name a few. Many others, like her, could not attend as often as they would like. Thanks to the Internet, which was then quickly becoming extremely popular, she envisioned some sort of online celebration so that fans who could not attend the US convention every year could nonetheless have a similar experience. Her idea was that this virtual convention would be planned by fans working together long distance through a Yahoo Group. She opened the Yahoo Group and invited the initial team herself based on people she felt would be dedicated. I was lucky enough to be one of them.

The event became known as Winterfest Online (WFOL). Winterfest is a holiday made up by the show and was well known to the fans. It also fit nicely to have a winter celebration because it would not conflict with the summer conventions. Initially WFOL was held in mid-January to match the timeline of the show. As it grew, more planning became necessary and it began to take away from the planners’ real life holiday season. So the dates were amended a bit and it now usually occurs early February. WFOL spans 9 days – two weekends and the week in between. For that week only, the special website goes live and there are many interactive activities: chats, videos, games, fan fiction, art work, and all manner of festive Beauty and the Beast related content. This past February, WFOL celebrated its 10th year. It truly mirrors a “real” convention in every way possible. There is even an on-line e-bay auction for charity, in keeping with our tradition of wanting to help the less fortunate. Sometimes the actors who starred in the series even join us for chats or will at least sign the guestbook. It has gotten to the point where one expects to “see” many of the same participants each year – just like one would at the in-person convention.

Enabling the Collaborative Communication Process
The almost completely flat, informal structure of Beauty and the Beast Fandom enabled the collaborative communication process that led to WFOL by allowing the group complete freedom. Since there is no president or formal hierarchy governing the group, there was no red tape hindering the formation of the group or the idea to have this event. The Italian fan was free to choose the people she wanted to work with, and she chose those who shared a similar vision and dedication to the ideals of the “Beauty and the Beast” television show. The people she invited to join this new Yahoo Group were free to say yes or no based on their own time constraints and level of interest. Once formed, the group did not have to answer to anyone but each other and this truly allowed creativity to flow freely. Aside from chipping in to buy a domain name, there were not even any budget constraints because we were working in the realm of the internet which is free.

Even though physically far apart, the Internet made it possible for the group members to be in contact with each other on a daily basis. It also may have made it easier to share ideas since people often feel a greater sense of freedom when communicating online. This is especially true for the introverted members of the group. If the group had met in real time, chances are that all members would not have been able to attend all meetings and people would have missed things. The advantage of a Yahoo Group is that you can catch up with the posts when you have time and can be involved in every conversation without missing any. In spite of all these pluses, it is still amazing what they accomplished. After all, there are a lot of Yahoo Groups, and many do not create worldwide events like WFOL.

One important factor that sets Beauty and the Beast Fandom apart from most groups, it seems, is the extremely high sense of cohesion that binds the group together. Cohesion is defined as the attraction and connection of group members to one another and to the group (Fujishin, 1997).

As previously mentioned, many people, like the Italian fan who attended her first convention in 2003, have mistakenly believed that they were the only person who loved and remembered this amazing TV show. At the very least, many fans are the only ones in their circle of friends and family who have such strong feelings about it. They may even have been told they were a bit “crazy” because it is, after all “only a TV show.” Yet, the romance, values and ideals of this show still held their passion and imagination in spite of comments from others. Finding the group is often an “I’m not alone after all!” kind of discovery. This experience creates a strong desire to give back to the group and keep it going.

Fujishin believes that one way to foster group cohesion is to structure an all-channel network system. The yahoo group provides this with ease as everyone has access to everyone else. A message can be responded to on the list, or privately to the sender as a member sees fit. Two or more members can begin a private conversation started by a topic on the list. “With an all channel network group members have access to all the other members without having to go through a central gatekeeper” (pg 129).

Beauty & the Beast fans also have a strong sense of empathy. It is common to hear stories of how sad people were when the show was cancelled. There were behind the scenes problems with the show in its second season that led to the main character, Catherine/the Beauty, being killed off in a cruel way. Many fans were left with no sense of closure. When group members come together, it is often a relief to realize that others felt the same way. This is what Fujishin calls mirroring of feelings. This situation also creates a strong sense of trust and the desire to give assistance – two more factors that bring about cohesion. It is common to hear stories of group members helping each other out in times of hardship, going out of their way for each other – both in person and sending supportive messages online. “Your willingness to put your caring into action will do more to improve cohesion and commitment toward one another than any other act I know. It proves your support” (pg 135).

Collaborative Effectiveness
The WFOL group within Beauty and the Beast Fandom had success because it possessed large amounts of creativity, collaboration and communication. These three factors, according to Gloor (2006) are the “DNA” necessary to create a COIN or a Collaborative Innovation Network. This concept comes from the behavior of social insects like bees or ants and is also known as Swarm Intelligence or Swarm Creativity. In an ant colony, one individual ant cannot do much on its own, but when the colony self-organizes around a task they can do big things together. Similarly, the Italian fan had an idea of what she wanted, but could not have done it all on her own. Many on the team, like me, did not have very advanced computer skills and no real idea what was possible. The tech savvy people would guide the ideas put forth by telling us how or if our ideas could be accomplished. “People working with the innovator are not working for her or him because they have been ordered to do so, but because they want the innovation to succeed. They all share the same vision and goals (in a sense, the same “genes”); they want to succeed and the want to see their innovation spread and be accepted by the outside world.” (pg. 22). This quote describes the WFOL group perfectly.

In addition, when looking at The Ten Principles of Collaborative Organizations (Beyerlein, 2003) several principles seem to play a part in the functioning of the WFOL group, but none so much as Number 4: Exploit the rhythm of convergence and divergence. The event took shape and came together solely out of the shared discussion on the Yahoo Group. The process was that ideas were put forth on the theme of an online gathering of fans that resembled a convention and took the theme of the holiday invented by the show. Some great ideas sprung out of a joke or a not-really-serious conversation that was nonetheless tossed back and forth for a time and made better by various members adding to it or changing it a bit until it was workable. The group seemed to know when something wouldn’t work and did not waste much time on it. There was plenty of time for discussion, but decisions were also made in a timely fashion. After the first WFOL was a success, an effort was made to continue to make it better and get as many fans involved as possible. The WFOL group accepts input from the fandom at large and discusses received ideas in the same way they deal with their own ideas. At the end of Winterfest week, part of the closing ceremonies is always a survey that asks what you liked best, what you liked least and other questions to help in the planning of next year’s event. Sometimes, ideas even come up in chats during the event that become actual activities the following year. But all ideas are treated in the same matter, respecting convergence and divergence. “When convergence and divergence rhythms are not managed well, an organization or team suffers from limited vision or inadequate completion – or simply an incorrect pacing of these two activities” (Beyerlein, pg. 42). This has never been a problem for the WFOL team.

Another important point for the success of WFOL is Number 7: Personal Accountability. This does not even have to be fostered so much as it seems to be built right into the group. If people could not be counted on to do what they said they would do, WFOL would never even have gotten off the ground. In addition, each year the dates for the event are posted on all the Beauty and the Beast related websites in the early fall. This is a self imposed deadline. Even though no one would be fired if it was missed, it never has been. Members take their commitments, to each other and to the Beauty and the Beast Fandom as a whole, very seriously because it stems from a passion. They want to attend the event just as much as everyone else.

Finally, there is Number 3: Articulate and enforce “a few strict rules.” Once again, the rule governing fandom and the WFOL group don’t really have to be actively enforced, most of the time. But they are articulated for all in the show itself. The show promoted ideals that we liked, such as honesty, loyalty, respect for others, tolerance, integrity and others. Like the Boy or Girl Scouts who have a Code, Beauty and the Beast fans, in most cases, want to abide by the ideals of the show. They are always in the background as a guiding factor. Anyone who does not follow them often receives negative feedback. Fans who attend sci-fi or fantasy conventions are often seen in a negative light anyway so the WFOL group does not want to do anything to perpetuate that negative image. If anything, they want to give all fans, Beauty and the Beast fans in particular, a good name.


I have learned a lot about leadership from the Beauty and the Beast fan organization over the years. However, this class has made me see that I have learned even more than I realized. I have always felt that this group seems to work together exceptionally well and have wondered why that can’t happen more often in life. I now understand and can give a name to the unique circumstances of cohesion, COIN, and the Principles of Collaborative Organizations that have allowed for the WFOL group to function so extraordinarily well.

When I was invited to the WFOL, I will admit to a certain sense of not being able to keep up with them. I had truly never worked this way before. I was very much used to being told what to do by the person in charge, and was not sure where I fit into a group where everyone was just doing what needed to be done.
After WFOL had been successful for several years, the original Italian fan who initiated the event felt that she no longer had the time to devote to it and bowed out. I admired her vision and saw her as the “unofficial” leader of the group simply because she was the one who started it. I was not sure how the group would continue without her. At the time, I watched the program “The Apprentice” and suggested to the group that we choose another Project Manager. It seemed logical to me that a group needed an official leader to function, even if they collaborated most of the time. Donald Trump and his program seemed to confirm this idea for me. However, my suggestion was basically ignored. I gradually came to see that I was completely wrong. The WFOL planning group continued to hum along with no real leader, just a group of dedicated friends. New members were asked to join from time to time but all are treated as equal contributors. This was a huge lesson for me and I realized that maybe Donald Trump - and Corporate America – could, in fact, take a lesson or two from Beauty & the Beast Fandom.


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