• If you are citizen of an European Union member nation, you may not use this service unless you are at least 16 years old.

  • You already know Dokkio is an AI-powered assistant to organize & manage your digital files & messages. Very soon, Dokkio will support Outlook as well as One Drive. Check it out today!


The Humanist, Relational, and Collaborative 20th Century

Page history last edited by Mark 12 years, 6 months ago


The Humanist, Relational, and Collaborative 20th Century


If one considers Frederick Taylor as the grandfather of the functionalist line of managerial thinking through the 20th century, Mary Parker Follett is the grandmother of the humanist and relational line of thinking. In her classic, 1926 article, The Giving of Orders, Follett identifies the need to reconcile the inherent conflict in an individual between resisting taking orders, arising from the natural animosity felt towards “the boss,” and the requirement to follow orders necessitated by a desire to retain one’s employment. Follett claims that if both the boss and the employee “discover the law of the situation and obey that … orders are simply part of the situation, [and] the question of someone giving and someone receiving does not come up. Both accept the orders given by the situation” (1926/1992, p. 153). In that case, the order becomes “depersonalized,” according to the language of scientific management. That is, the requirement to act or perform in a certain way is removed from the arbitrary exercise of power that derives from the legitimated hierarchical power dynamic and instead, becomes contingently based. In effect, the situation and not one’s superior office is giving the order. As well, both superior and subordinate receive the order equally and simultaneously.


This reasoning might appear to be an early argument in favour of structural contingency theory (and other, related contingency theories in general). However, Follett’s emphasis is less focused on organizational contingent response, and more on human responses – “the essence of the human being” (p. 155) – that fundamentally reorganizes the impetus of the conventional superior-subordinate relationship, and explicitly acknowledges the effects of organizational actions on organizational actors:


We, persons, have relations with each other, but we should find them in and through the whole situation. We cannot have any sound relations with each other as long as we take them out of that setting which gives them their meaning and value… (Follett, 1926/1992, p. 154)


…if taking a responsible attitude toward experience involves recognizing the evolving situation, a conscious attitude toward experience means that we note the change which the developing situation makes in ourselves; the situation does not change without changing us. (Follett, 1926/1992, p. 156; emphasis in original)


The iconic exemplar of a changing situation changing those involved is the famous Hawthorne Experiments (Mayo, 1933/1945; Roethlisberger & Dickson, 1940/1964), conducted at the Hawthorne Works of Western Electric Company in Chicago between 1924 and 1932. In the summary introduction to their chapter on classic writings of Human Resource theory and Human Relations movement, Shafritz and Ott observe:


The Mayo team … redefined the Hawthorne problems as social psychological problems—problems conceptualized in such terms as interpersonal relations in groups, group norms, control over one’s own environment, and personal recognition. … The Hawthorne studies showed that complex, interactional variables make the difference in motivating people—things like attention paid to workers as individual, workers’ control over their own work, differences between individuals’ needs, management’s willingness to listen, group norms, and direct feedback. (Shafritz & Ott, 1992, p. 144)


Martin Parker (2000) credits Mayo and his team for being first to apply learning from the social sciences in order to motivate workers to achieve organizational goals and objectives without feeling oppressed or alienated. Parker goes on to identify the contributions of researchers and practitioners such as Douglas McGregor, Rensis Likert, and Chris Argyris, among others, as “prescriptions for satisfying workers and managers simultaneously but they reframe elements of the early human relations studies by moving the focus of attention from the social structure of the workgroup to more interactive formulations of the relationship between social identities” (p. 38; emphasis added). Clearly, by the 1960s – when these authors were active – the bifurcation between the functionalist-instrumentalist and humanist-relational schools of thought was well established.


Douglas McGregor (1957/1992, 1960) outlines his Theory X and Theory Y approaches to understanding employee motivation. Theory X posits that employees are reluctant and “indolent” workers; management, therefore, must intervene and maintain firm control to accomplish the necessities of organizational productivity. Theory Y, on the other hand, maintains that such disagreeable employees are created by the treatment they receive from management. By understanding that basic needs (e.g., Maslow, 1943), once fulfilled, are no longer motivational, employees’ higher level “ego needs” can provide adequate motivation so long as management arranges “organizational conditions and methods of operation so that people can achieve their own goals best by directing their own efforts toward organizational objectives” (McGregor, 1957/1992, p. 178; emphasis in original). He goes on to describe how more self-management, self-direction, and job enhancement through encouraging individual initiative can transform a Theory X style of organizational management to Theory Y.


In articulating the dichotomy of perceived employee behaviour from his vantage point of post-war industrial growth, one can interpret McGregor as reporting on his observations of the dual – and duelling – discourses approaching the midpoint of the epochal transformation. That he cannot entirely distinguish the managerial consequences of fully implementing Theory Y – namely, the full extent to which relationships that beget mutual trust and respect regardless of position are necessary – is likely a sign of his own social conditioning. Both Theories X and Y begin with the same premise of a privileged position for management: “Management is responsible for organizing the elements of productive enterprise – money, materials, equipment, people – in the interest of economic ends” (1957/1992, p. 174, 178). Challenging that basic premise via “management that has confidence in human capacities and is itself directed toward organizational objectives rather than towards the preservation of personal power” (p. 180) opens Theory Y to its full transformational potential: “not only enhance substantially these materialistic achievements, but will bring us one step closer to ‘the good society’” (p. 180).


Similarly, Rensis Likert (1961, 1967) describes four “systems” that provide finer granularity to McGregor’s two theories. System I and System II organizations are more and less extreme versions of McGregor’s Theory X. In contrast, Likert’s first gradation of McGregor’s Theory Y, namely System III, prescribes a “consultative” approach to management in which decision control remains with a manager despite consultations with workers. System IV describes a fuller realization of Theory Y in which mutual relationships support a fully participative form of decision-making and group management. Likert emphasizes that such a degree of participation necessitates a significant change in what was the prevailing management practice and philosophy at the time:


The leadership and other processes of the organization must be such as to ensure a maximum probability that in all interactions and in all relationships within the organization, each member, in the light of his background, values, desires, and expectations, will view the experience as supportive and one which builds and maintains his sense of personal worth and importance. (Likert, 1967, p. 47)


In the mid-1970s, Chris Argyris and Donald Schön introduce an organizational behaviour frame through which the dynamics of interpersonal relations in group environments become explicit. Their theories of action (1974) examine the organizational implications of what a person or group espouses in response to particular circumstances as compared to their actual actions—what Argyris and Schön term theories-in-use. They argue that individuals’ understanding of the specific organizations of which they are members continually evolves based on an ever-changing perception of theory-in-use. Irrespective of formal structures, or explicitly enumerated visions, missions, goals, or other espoused attributes, “individual members are continually engaged in attempting to know the organization, and to know themselves in the context of the organization. … Organization is an artifact of individual ways of representing organization” (1978, p. 16). In other words, organization may be contingent (as was becoming the popular and prevailing view in the functionalist discourse), but its contingency in this respect has more to do with individuals’ interactions and interrelationships than with any determinism imposed by external factors.


Around the same time as Argyris and Schön, Karl Weick extends the idea that, essentially, organization is a state of mind, a social construction based on the collective experience of actors who mediate their enactment of reality through language, “the interaction between sensemaking and actions” (Hernes, 2008, p. 118). The sense that individuals make of their organizational environment is inextricably tied to the processes contained therein, a “concern with flows, with flux, and momentary appearances. The raw materials from which processes are formed usually consist of the interests and activities of individuals that become meshed” (Weick, 1979, p. 444). Sensemaking, in the context of organizing, involves the negotiation of meaning between interpersonal – or what Weick calls “intersubjective” – interactions, and individual responses to structural directives, constraints, and normative behaviours that Weick terms “generic subjectivity.” He writes:


I would argue that organizing lies atop that movement between the intersubjective and the generically subjective. By that I mean that organizing is a mixture of vivid, unique intersubjective understandings and understandings that can be picked up, perpetuated, and enlarged by people who did not participate in the original intersubjective construction. (Weick, 1995, p. 72)


In Weick’s conception, organization has no existence aside from that enacted by its members through the collective meaning they make. Further, as Hernes explains, those enactments are intentional, as are the outcomes: “what takes place is a direct consequence of what we enacted” (2008, p. 126), principles of complexity notwithstanding, apparently. Nonetheless, Weick centring organizational enactment on both the conceptual abstractions and concrete interactions of its members sets the stage for radically different organizational metaphors – ways of conceiving organization – and therefore, for radically different organizations.


As the 20th century settles into its role as the so-called information age, the metaphor of computer and communication networks begin to infiltrate organizational thinking. Not surprisingly, information networking technologies are initially considered primarily from an instrumental standpoint. For example, Manuel Castells astutely notes, “in the 1980s, in America, more often than not, new technology was viewed as a labor-saving device and as an opportunity to take control of labor, not as an instrument of organizational change” (1996, p. 169). Podolny and Page, however, view the emerging notion of a network organization as an alternative to the primarily economic (instrumental) conceptions of organizations and organizational control as either hierarchies or markets. Instead they see this new form “as any collection of actors that pursue repeated, enduring exchange relations with one another and, at the same time, lack a legitimate organizational authority to arbitrate and resolve disputes that may arise during the exchange” (1998, p. 59).  They describe how a more loosely connected organization may lead to better learning, a reconception of status and legitimation in organizational contexts, and potentially even economic benefits from lower transaction costs and greater adaptability.


Some authors see the emergence of non-hierarchical, loosely-coupled networks – often enabled through Internet technologies and often without legitimated loci of authority and control – as an archetype for emergent organizational design (Powell, 1990; Beekun & Glick, 2001; Nardi, Whittaker, & Schwartz, 2000, 2002). Others generalize the form and operating principles of the “organization of the future” from the success of the open-source movement (Ljungberg, 2000; Markus, Manville, & Agres, 2000; Federman, 2006). Even some of the most hierarchical and bureaucratic organizations in the world, the U.S. military (Alberts & Hayes, 1999) and the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (Ward, Wamsley, Schroeder, & Robins, 2000), sought out network models of organization to counter the problems and inefficiencies associated with more traditional organizations being rooted in “Industrial Age mindsets, cultures, and norms of behavior. It has to do with the reward and incentive structures, loyalties, and the nature of the interactions among the individuals and organizational entities” (Alberts & Hayes, 1999, p. 58).


The metaphor – or actual reification – of a non-hierarchical network implemented via computer and communication technology, as appealing as it may seem as an antidote to centuries-old hierarchical and bureaucratic socialization is, by itself, no panacea. Ahuja and Carley (1999) investigate a so-called virtual organization in which computer-mediated communications connect members of a geographically-distributed enterprise, in a way that enables direct contact among people, regardless of formal organization structure. The authors argue that such a virtual organization would tend to display an emergent structure driven primarily by information flow that would distinguish between centralization – tasks mediated through a supervisor – and hierarchy – the creation of organizational levels, especially with respect to control, authority and decision making. Their findings suggest that traditional organizational forms are difficult to overcome, whether they are based on class-creating legitimation or on similarly class-creating possession of specialized information:


Once certain people had been identified as possessing specific types of information or knowledge, the group members had a tendency to direct suitable inquiries to those individuals directly … [the] consequences of this communication and interaction pattern … [means]  the informal structure of the virtual organization becomes stabilized with respect to roles, thus stratified and centralized. (Ahuja & Carley, 1999, p. 752)


Almost as a reinforcement of hierarchical socialization, traditional levels of authority also permeate the virtual organization with respect to authority and decision making. In the Ahuja and Carley study, people who are more senior in their respective “real” organizations assume greater authority compared to those who are more junior. Two distinct hierarchies emerge: one formal, and one informal. The authors are moved to consider,


…to what extent do virtual organizations resemble traditional organizations? Previous researchers have argued that the difference is largely one of decentralization versus centralization, non-hierarchical versus hierarchical. We find that this distinction is misleading. We found evidence of both centralization and hierarchy in a virtual organization. However, this structural form emerged in the communication structure and was not equivalent to an authority structure based on status or tenure differences. In many traditional organizations the centralization or hierarchy is in the authority structure and is related to status and tenure differences. In other words, we found no evidence that the formal and informal structures in the virtual organization were indistinguishable. (Ahuja & Carley, 1999, p. 754)


Or, stated another way, technology alone is not sufficient to overcome workers’ socialization in traditional hierarchies and control mechanisms, particularly when power is involved (Wilson, 1995)—Taylor and Weber live on, online.


The expected radical change in organizations seems not to be driven as much by the structural metaphors of network technologies – the Internet being among the more obvious examples – but rather by some of the experienced effects enabled by massive interconnectivity. More than a decade before the invention of the world wide web, William Kraus observed that hierarchical control in organizations imposes a self-perpetuating value system that tends to reinforce the mechanisms of the bureaucratic hierarchy[1]. In response, he describes twelve characteristics of a “collaborative organization structure” (1980) that can be loosely categorized into four themes, each addressing one major aspect of a hierarchically-dominated corporate value systems: (a) decoupling status from both task and formal organization structure; (b) decoupling compensation from status; (c) creating an organic and contingent organization structure; and (d) designing tasks that are integrated and interdependent to promote mutual success.


Kraus’s proposal directly challenges the ingrained notion that status is a scarce resource. In the collaborative organization, status and prestige – conventionally signified and legitimated by one’s position on the organization chart – necessitate attributes that engender trust and encourage cooperation that transcends departmental boundaries and strict functional demarcations. As identity, status, and power do not inhere in the organization chart, typical organizationally dysfunctional behaviours such as defending territory become unimportant in the collaborative environment. Natural leaders emerging in such an environment represent an interesting retrieval of the role of “elder” in a tribal society. Changing what is culturally valued permits departmental boundaries to be breached, especially via interconnected, diverse social networks, to accomplish tasks more effectively based on trust, without potentially losing status or power.


Sally Helgesen (1995) draws from both her earlier study of women-led organizations, and the then-emerging metaphor of the world wide web to characterize the type of organization Kraus describes as a “web of inclusion.” She describes such organizations as being “especially apt to be driven by clearly articulated values” (p. 286), and emergent from the processes and relationships that integrate thinking and doing, especially among front-line workers. Thus, traditional power relations are decentralized and diffused through integrated networks of individuals that form and re-form based on specific, situational expertise, prior experiences working together, and open communications throughout the organization, irrespective of traditional rank or hierarchical position. In Helgesen’s web of inclusion, “information flows freely across levels, teams make their own decisions, work on specific projects evolves in response to needs as they arise, and task is more important than position” (p. 280).


Christian Maravelias (2003) provides an example of such an organization in action. Skandia Assurance Financial Services self-organizes amorphous teams around specific projects, comprised of people who operate in a high-trust environment.


What drove individuals to work harder and smarter were [sic] not a pressure to subordinate to a distinct culture, but the lack of any clear system to subordinate to… a form of reflective attitude among participants, making them aware of the value of acting in a manner that made them trustees… (Maravelias, 2003, p. 557)


The high trust culture enabled a distributed form of control, a form of peer control, which did not restrict individual freedom, but used it as its primary means of operation. … [I]t was not an organization made of aggregates of people, but of a subtle system of professional roles… In fact, to a certain extent the distinction between professional and private concerns had not become less, but more important. … It was the individual’s, not the organization’s, responsibility of drawing this line [between professional and private concerns]. (Maravelias, 2003, p. 559)


At Skandia AFS, individuals’ mutual control based on creating and valuing shared and distributed power among all members of the organization means that control shifts from an impersonal bureaucratic hierarchy to an environment of mutuality among the individual members. In addition to Kraus’s suggested attributes, such a profound transformation of the locus of control may be a determinant of an organization that has evolved according to the humanistic, relational discourse of the 20th century.


Approaching the discourse from a sociological theoretic frame, Paul Adler and Charles Heckscher (2006) posit “that a new and possibly higher form of community might emerge, offering a framework for trust in dynamic and diverse relationships, and reconciling greater degrees of both solidarity and autonomy” (p. 12). They describe collaborative community as a “dialectical synthesis of the traditional opposites Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft” (p. 15), where the former denotes traditional, mostly patriarchal community with strong, common socialization, and the latter denotes business association and relations in which people will essentially act as so-called homo economicus[2]. Adler and Heckscher explain that social organization has traditionally been divided among hierarchy (divisions of labour with legitimated authority); markets (price-determined value exchanges among competing actors, all of whom presumably act rationally); and community (in which actions are mediated through shared values and commonly agreed behavioural norms).


When the dominant principle of social organization is hierarchy, community takes the form of Gemeinschaft. When the dominant principle shifts to market, community mutates from Gemeinschaft into Gesellschaft. We postulate that when community itself becomes the dominant organizing principle, it will take a form quite different from either Gemeinschaft or Gesellschaft. (Adler & Heckscher, 2006, p. 16)


This third, “quite different,” form is fundamentally based on three principles: (a) shared values among all members of the group—“value-rationality [in which] participants coordinate their activity through their commitment to common ultimate goals [whose] highest value is interdependent contribution, as distinct from loyalty or individual integrity” (p. 16); (b) an organization that stresses “interdependent process management through formal and informal social structures” (p. 17); and (c) a construction of identity that is interdependent and reconciled from among conflicting aspects into a whole that is negotiated from among competing interests.


Values in a collaborative community are jointly constructed among all the members of the group; trust in this environment is based on the degree to which all members believe that everyone can make a worthwhile contribution to the shared values which are,


…timeless statements of what the group is. Purpose is a relatively pragmatic view of what the group is trying to achieve, given the environmental challenges, in the foreseeable future. … A collaborative community emerges when a collectivity engages cooperative, interdependent activity towards a common object. (Adler & Heckscher, 2006, p. 21)


The purpose must both be determined and shared by the group as a whole; it is not the preserve of a small elite group, nor can it be imposed on the larger group in a manner that would be characteristic of Gemeinschaft (and most conventional organizations, as well). However, the authors note that achieving shared purpose in this collaborative sense is extremely difficult, especially when shared values and purpose are contested among the members based on individual needs and perspectives. As well, in larger organizations, like traditional corporations and even modern public institutions for example, relationships of power and the goal of production to create profit (or profit-equivalent) in a competitive environment tends to oppose collective, values-based purpose. Indeed, Weber characterizes the “iron cage” of control (1921/1978) that bureaucracies create in which individuals succumb to “unshatterable” power relations that, some might argue, transcend human judgement and any sense of compassion. Adler and Heckscher observe that Weber does speak of a type of organization that governs itself through value-rationality (“Wertrationalität”) in which common purpose and values determine the group’s direction. They note, however, that Weber was skeptical as to whether value-rationality has sufficient strength to sustain a large, formal organization. One example of such a value-rational group – although not usually thought of as an organization per se – is the so-called Community of Practice that is described and characterized by Jean Lave and Etienne Wenger (1991; Wenger, 1998; Wenger, McDermott, & Snyder, 2002).


In Adler and Heckscher’s description, two primary elements characterize collaboration: “contribution to the collective purpose, and contribution to the success of others” (2006, p 39). The former presumes assuming responsibility greater than one’s own nominal mandate while remaining within the bounds of building agreement among other team members. It also presumes active engagement among all members rather than deference to a (legitimated) superior. The latter aspect serves to strengthen collaborative relationships and to build mutual trust. As the research findings will later demonstrate, there is a marked difference between collaboration as both Adler and Heckscher describe and some participants experience in their respective organizations, and the commonly expressed “teamwork” that is more consistent with the functionalist discourse characteristic of what I would term the primary-purposeful organization.


A collaborative community faces numerous issues that challenge the conventional socialization of its members. Its boundaries are amorphous and often in flux with more dynamic connections and reconfigurations. Among its members, highly diverse levels of skill and expertise are continually being brought together in a variety of configurations in which relative authority becomes highly contingent: authority becomes based on value-rationality, rather than on assigned or attributed status, or one’s nominal position in a legitimated hierarchy. The requisite shared understanding and commitment necessitates ongoing public discussions and vigorous negotiation among potentially conflicting individual values. In a “traditional” organization defined primarily by its purpose,


…the ‘mission’ was eternal and defining; in collaborative ones the generation of shared purpose becomes, as it were, an ongoing task rather than a fixed origin. It is evolving and fluid, and organized systems are needed to renew shared understanding and commitment. (Adler & Heckscher, 2006, p. 45)


Although Adler and Heckscher do not explicitly mention it, this sort of lively values dialogue becomes a widely-held value in itself, as will be seen later among some of this project’s participant organizations. Resolving the aforementioned challenges in collaborative communities requires interdependent process management practices that accomplish the organization’s shared purpose(s) among people with highly diverse knowledge, skills, experiences, and worldviews.



Read On:  Entering the 21st Century


[1] This is consistent with Castells description of a bureaucracy: “organizations for which the reproduction of their system of means becomes their main organizational goal” (1996, p. 171).

[2] From John Stuart Mill’s and Adam Smith’s work, this term refers to self-interested “economic man,” concerned solely with building material wealth, and therefore acting in an entirely rational, instrumental, and efficacious fashion.


Comments (0)

You don't have permission to comment on this page.