Chapter 4 in my organizational communication text is Relational Strategies of Organizing. It discusses the relational aspects of organizations, and organizational structures that take advantage of them rather than try to control them. The USA, it seems, doesn’t generally fare well with relational themes — we have too much distrust between management and employees.
Relational Strategies of Organizational Design
Relational strategies are compared to traditional strategies of organization. The key distinction is relational strategies are decentralized, while traditional strategies are centralized and hierarchical.
Decentralization and Participation
Decentralization leads to participatory decision making. With fewer managers, employees have to make the decisions closest and most important to them.
Necessary Features for Successful PDM
Various PDM methods include:
- Management by objectives
- Quality improvement programs
- Self-managed teams
But PDM isn’t a guaranteed success. It takes more effort, and buy-in from employees, to be effective:
- Subordinates must want to be involved in decision making
- Supervisors must be willing to let employees participate
- The issues being discussed must be important to the employees
- Participants must have relevant information and expertise
- Managers must encourage the attitudes required for participatory systems
Resistance to PDM
Just because the society is democratic, doesn’t mean the workplace is. A sense of worker/management antagonism in US culture makes the level of trust necessary in PDM difficult. Then some people just don’t want to participate, based on their skills. Since PDM requires everyone to communicate, people with communication anxiety don’t like it, and people with good communication skills sometimes come to monopolize the process. But even for good communicators the process can sometimes lead to communication overload.Finally supervisors may resist, since it encroaches on their power, or use their ability to communicate to unduly influence others and control the process.
Informal Communication Networks
Networks can be uniplex or multiplex, i.e. single topic or multi-topic. Multi gives increased support, but can also increase stress by its increased demands. Informal communication networks tend to be multiplexed.
Cliques are set of tightly interconnected people. One important property of cliques is closeness — not having to go through too many other people to reach the ones you want.
Centrality is another network trait — The more that passes through a particular group or point increases centrality. Centrality often leads to prestige — being contacted by others instead of being forced to contact them.
A liaison is someone who links cliques but is not part of either, while a bridge links cliques and is part of both. An isolate is someone with few links to other networks. Each of these plays a different role in network communication dynamics.
Relational Strategies of Motivation, Control and Surveillance
Job Enrichment and Enlargement
Abraham Maslow and Chris Argyris posited a hierarchy of needs:
- Esteem or Ego
While not supported consistently in follow-up research, this hierarchy has been the basis for several ideas for increasing worker satisfaction by enriching their jobs.(Note, people like hierarchies and charts like these. They take on a certain “truth” for them, whether or not they work in practice. People so often follow the theory over reality.)
Argyris made such a strategy. He said traditional organizations continued to routinize tasks to keep employees controlled, with causes people to react in counterproductive ways: defensive, apathetic, etc. Managers deskill jobs to make them segmented, simplified and routine. Deskilling in done to “increase efficiency” but it also alienates workers while increasing supervisory control.
The alternative, Argyris stated, was enriching jobs, which enables organizations to decentralize. It also enables employees to get more upper level (self -actualization) rewards and thus need less lower level (monetary) rewards. But it requires a lot of relational communication. Too simple is bored, too complex is frustrating. Only in the middle is the job satisfying.
Principles for Team Effectiveness
- A clear, elevating goal
- A results-driven structure
- Competent team members
- Unified commitment
- A collaborative climate
- Standards of excellence
- External support
- Principled leadership
To create a group that follows these principles requires work and cultivation over a long period of time.
Besides these internal group activities, there are also boundary-spanning activities
- Scouting or scanning activities
- Liaison activities
These groups tend to exert concertive control over their members, control exercised through the peer pressure of the group
Relational Strategies of Leadership
Leadership and Group Decision Making
Leaders can guide decision-making three ways: Make the decision, consult with the group then make the decision, or have the group make the decision. When the group is making the decision, the leader has three functions, to make three forms of influence: on members’ perception of self, on members’ perception of the group, on pace and direction of discussion.
Information and Communication Technology and the Relational Strategy
ICT can support the relational strategy. E-mail, for example, is a fast and effective linking mechanism. It encourages communication between people at different levels, locations, on different schedules, without the need of any formal relationships. Unified messaging and wikis are other communication devices that foster additional relationships.
Relational Strategies and Employee Job Satisfaction
PDM and transactional leadership are shown to increase job satisfaction in a small, but consistent measure. It decreases the costs associated with job turnover.
PDM and Individual/Organizational Performance
Participation doesn’t ensure the best decisions. Usually decisions are better than average, but not as good as the best person in the group. A supervisor might or might not make a better decision, depending on whether he is the best expert in the group.
PDMs exist in a paradox. It is a participation system, usually encouraged by management, which delivers a message to “be spontaneous — our way”. Be democratic — but make decisions fast. And self managed groups can be even tighter on regulations than a traditional organization — the “paradox of control” where the group self-censors and squelches its own creativity. This last paradox is one that successful groups have to learn to avoid.
Transactional Leadership and Individual/Organizational Performance
Studies haven’t found a strong link between job satisfaction and individual performance. They do have a positive effect on service-related business where customer service is key.
Thinking Critically About Relational Strategies
Thinking Critically About Interests
Owners, Managers and Workers have many interests in common, but not always as common as it seems. Workers are interested in the company keeping itself profitable and their jobs in a specific locale. Managers look for bonuses based on short-term performance. Laying workers off through technology can boost their pay-out.
Thinking Critically About Empowerment
To be empowered, everyone must have an equal chance to communicate. Management can shaped the forum of discourse to give the lllusion of participation while preventing active involvement, or it can create opportunities where everyone can participate and feel empowered.
Conrad, C., Poole., M. (2012). Strategic organizational communication in a global economy. West Sussex, UK: Wiley-Blackwell.