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Managing collaborative organizations in the 90s.

It is recognized that the manager is dependent upon others to perform his job effectively, Generally, one's attention has focused on the manager's dependence on his subordinates in the organization's hierarchy. As a result, much has been written about how managers can gain and use power to influence the performance of those who report to them. The competitive realities facing most organizations today, however, have resulted in unprecedented strategic and structural changes which, in turn, have altered the nature of these managerial dependencies. Traditional strategies based on hierarchical position for gaining and using power to influence others may no longer be as useful for the manager of the 1990s.

Most organizations today are faced with greater competition and a more rapidly changing environment than ever before. This has led firms to adopt more complex strategies emphasizing product and process innovation, efficiency and market responsiveness. These strategic changes have resulted in numerous structural changes within organizations including: flatter organizational structures; more team-based work; jobs redesigned for flexibility; employee involvement programs; self-management of work groups; cross-functional task forces; liaison positions across boundaries; and JIT systems linking organizations more closely with suppliers and customers - to name only a few.

All of these changes, focused on creating high-performance organizations, revolve around increased collaboration among employees and decentralized decision making. These changes have led to new forms of organization. Much has been written lately about these new organizations, often under the banner of "high-commitment," "high-involvement" or "new plant" work systems. In manufacturing and service industries, in large and small firms and in old, traditional plants and greenfield sites, the systematic development of collaborative approaches is emerging. Managers from different work groups are required to work together to solve organizational problems, joint decision making is becoming commonplace and new managerial skills are required for success in radically changed organizations.

As the strategic role of the manager of the 1990s changes, so does the nature of effective leadership. These changes lead to an increased importance of lateral influence processes and to an erosion of hierarchical sources of power. Some managers may welcome these changes while others may look at them as a threat to their traditional base of authority - their position in the hierarchy. In order to successfully meet the challenges of the future each of us must adopt new strategies for gaining and using power.

One stream of management research has documented the failure of many managers and supervisors in these collaborative organizations. Much of the blame has been place on the ambiguity of managerial roles and the lack of general participative management skills. What has not been discussed is how the structure of relationships in these organizations calls for new approaches to the use of power and influence. In this article the growing importance of lateral influence processes in collaborative organizations of the 1990s is discussed and strategies are recommended for gaining power and exercising lateral influence to enhance managerial effectiveness in the collaborative work environments.

Decision making

The term "organizational politics" evokes negative connotations for many. However, one form of organizational politics is simply the use of power to affect decision making within organizations. While we all have seen negative examples of politicking" in organizations (for personal gain at the expense of others), political behavior is a necessary element in the effort to achieve, departmental and organizational goals. Effective managers engage in political behavior daily to influence decisions about organizational goals, strategies for achieving those goals and work behaviors required for peak performance in support of those goals. Three major factors suggest that political behavior, especially behavior oriented toward influencing others in lateral relationships, is even more critical in the collaborative organizations of the 1990s.

First, the growing need for innovation and responsiveness requires that managers from various areas pool their collective, knowledge, resources and expertise to meet competitive challenges. Since these individuals enter this decision-making arena with diverse values, abilities, goals, priorities and perspectives, conflict and disagreement are inevitable, even if each manager is acting in an intendedly rational way. Under such conditions, the rational model of decision making (i.e., define the problem, diagnose the causes, develop alternative solutions, evaluate the alternatives, etc.) often gives way to political activity as the vital determinant of decision outcomes. Managers who are adept and skilled in lateral influence tactics are likely to be more effective than their less politically savvy counterparts.

Secondly, in contrast to collaborative organizations, the traditional bureaucratic organization often centralizes decision making with few cross-departmental interactions lower levels. Influence in these organizations is often unilateral and exercised in a top-down manner. A large part of the manager's role in these organizations is devoted to managing vertical dependencies, that is, directing and monitoring the work efforts of subordinates and acquiring control over resources from superiors.

Power in the traditional organization is closely aligned with one's position in the hierarchy and ability to manage vertical (i.e., superior-subordinate) relations. Thus, strategies for gaining and using power in these organizations focus on one's abilities to enhance and maintain the legitimacy of one's position and to gain and exercise control over valued rewards and sanctions.

In the collaborative organization, flatter organizational structures and cross-functional tasks require that managers spend an increased amount of time interacting with individuals outside of their vertical chain of command. The manager's effectiveness will therefore be contingent upon his ability to influence those over whom he has no formal authority. Traditional influence tactics based on assumptions of top-down, positional power are no longer as useful in light of these increasing lateral interdependencies.

Thirdly, collaborative organizations put high premiums on involving employees in decision making and increasing the operational autonomy of individuals and work groups. In such environments, the traditional distinctions between managers and employees, often described by the "superior-subordinate" roles, are no longer appropriate. The role of the manager shifts from that of gaining control of employees to one of gaining commitment and cooperation. The collaborative organization that is determined to empower employees to take responsibility for their performance looks for a different set of behaviors in effective managers. This shift is often signaled by changes in titles: for example, from foreman to "group leader," from supervisor to "team advisor" and from director to "associate." Such changes can be purely semantic in some organizations. In others, they capture the reality that managers must develop new ways of exercising political influence on decisions and behaviors outside their traditional prerogative of managerial authority.

The erosion of hierarchy and authority as a real basis for influence, the growing need for collaboration and decision making across departmental boundaries and the new, more egalitarian relationships between managers and employees all suggest the need for managers to develop new political strategies of influence.

Characteristics of lateral relations

Managers in organizations use a variety of influence tactics as they attempt to gain support for their ideas and motivate others. The effectiveness of different kinds of influence would seem to depend, to a large extent, on a manager's abilities to accurately assess the demands of the situation and adjust his behavior accordingly. Indeed, research indicates that successful managers vary their influence tactics based on the target, and purpose, of the influence attempt. Thus, managers in collaborative organizations, as they attempt to influence peers and co-equals, must alter their influence tactics to account for the unique dynamics that exist in these critical relationships.

Developing effective influence tactics requires an understanding of three important characteristics of lateral relations in collaborative organizations. These are: (1) a greater balance of power among decision-makers brought about by the wider access of employees to vital resources (information, technical expertise, budgets); (2) an on-going interdependence of co-equals, where managers must trade and bargain for support over time and develop long-term "give and take" relationships with their counterparts; and, (3) a greater need to develop genuine commitment to decisions since compliance of participants cannot be insured through formal authority or direct control over organizational rewards and sanctions.

In traditional bureaucratic organizations, where one's power is based on hierarchical control over organizational resources, managers elicit support for their goals by controlling, telling, questioning, reviewing, rewarding, threatening and reprimanding. The use of such "directive/coercive" influence has met with growing skepticism among management practitioners and scholars over the last few decades. These tactics are generally discouraged or suggested as methods of last resort in more collaborative organizations. This is not surprising since these approaches are incongruous with the more egalitarian culture that exists in such organizations. Furthermore, these tactics are not likely to result in the high commitment required in collaborative organizations.

Recently, a growing number of articles and case studies have begun to appear in the management literature advancing the use of alternative influence strategies. These include strategies such as: (1) persuading individuals based on logical arguments and empirical evidence, "rational persuasion;" (2) developing support for one's ideas based on pre-established friendship and loyalty, "personal appeal;" (3) trading on past favors or the promise of future rewards, "exchange tactics;" (4) developing and showing support of others, "coalition building;" and (5) including individuals in decisions and incorporating their ideas in order to enhance their support for the manager's policies or plans, consultation." These "reciprocal/rational" influence strategies down-play status differences and unilateral control and are thus more likely to be effective in collaborative organizations.

Support for these approaches was provided in a recent study of managers and supervisors by Bernard Keys and Thomas Case. They found that the use of power/ coercive influence tactics are significantly more likely to result in failure (even when directed at subordinates) when compared with the reciprocal/rational influence strategies described above. In contrast to power/ coercive strategies, reciprocal/rational influence tactics are not primarily derived from one's positional power base, i.e., hierarchical control over organizational resources. For this reason, these strategies are especially useful in decentralized, collaborative work settings.

These reciprocal/rational tactics are largely based on the incumbent managers' personal bases of power. For example, a manager is more likely to be able influence others through rational persuasion if he has demonstrated his job-related expertise, problem solving skills and personal integrity. Similarly, a manager's attempts to influence through personal appeals is dependent upon his likability, verbal persuasiveness and pre-established interpersonal relationships. Finally, the manager's use of exchange tactics, coalition building and consultation is integrally related to his leadership skills, inter-personal competence, political savvy and pre-established credibility.

A manager's personal power is generally believed to be derived from his knowledge/expertise, interpersonal relations and personal characteristics. Thus, managers in collaborative organizations can increase their personal power by cultivating critical and distinctive competencies, developing an expansive network of reciprocal relations and establishing credibility and integrity in the organizational decision making process.

Cultivating competencies

One source of a manager's personal power is his job related knowledge and skills. Numerous studies demonstrate that managers who possess competencies that are in demand (i.e., scarce and critical to the organization's mission) acquire more influence in the decision making arena. But, what kind of distinctive competencies are desired? In collaborative organizations managers can increase their power by gaining knowledge or information that reduces uncertainty to cope with rapidly changing conditions, and by developing analytical and group process skills that are crucial to organizational decision making.

One major force behind the development of collaborative organizations was the need to reduce the uncertainties that many organizations faced in their rapidly changing, competitive environments. By adopting looser organizational structures and decentralizing decision-making processes these organizations have been better able to cope with uncertainty and respond to critical strategic contingencies. As in all organizations, the manager plays a critical role by providing valued and timely information.

The nature of this information may be different from what is required in more traditional organizations since the manager collaborative organizations is likely to be involved in more broad-based decisions. As in traditional bureaucratic organizations, managers in collaborative organizations can increase their personal power by acquiring additional technical knowledge and expertise. However, in collaborative organizations managers can further enhance their power by gaining access to information beyond their specialized area of expertise.

One way that managers can acquire such vital information is through the development of a social network of allies and friends across the organization. These allies can be called upon as resources to provide the manager with relevant facts when decisions are made. This informational network provides the manager a contextual understanding about alternate solutions and their ramifications. Also, managers who seek out assignments that allow for interactions with critical resources outside the organization or who develop relationships with their counterparts in other organizations also increase their influence by gaining access to information that is required in decision making. By gaining access to vital information, managers can reduce decision uncertainty and thereby enhance their influence. The key to these strategies, however, is the acquisition of power outside the narrow domains of the manager's traditional line of authority.

Team-based decision making is a cornerstone of collaborative organizations. Thus, group decision making and leadership skills are essential to organizational success. Research suggests that group decision making requires a variety of leader behaviors, some that facilitate the accomplishment of the group's task and others that serve to maintain positive group dynamics. Examples of "task-oriented" leader behaviors include structuring and guiding the group discussion, stimulating and clarifying communication, summarizing the discussion and checking for group consensus. Examples of "group maintenance" leader behaviors include increasing group participation and preventing withdrawal, regulating group behavior, reducing tension and identifying and resolving group process problems.

Balancing these group leadership skills is critical for effective group decision making. However, a manager does not necessarily have to be in a formal leadership role to exercise these leadership behaviors. Managers who demonstrate leadership skills that facilitate group decision making and problem solving will naturally acquire more power and influence over time.

Developing reciprocal relations

Managers spend an inordinate amount of time attending to and cultivating relationships with members of their vertical chain of command (i.e., bosses and subordinates). Much evidence suggests that managers need to reapportion their time and devote greater attention to cross-functional relations. This is particularly true in collaborative organizations, where the manager's success is largely dependent on his ability to develop these positive lateral relations.

Many managers today are reluctant to give the necessary time to important cross-functional relations. This may be due in part to pre-established habits, social preference or the belief that traditional managerial responsibilities are being neglected. Nevertheless, the effective manager in a collaborative organization must devote considerable time to cultivating a large, balanced network of allies and friends across the organization, especially with co-managers. This is essential to gaining access to information, resources and support to enable the manager to accomplish his organizational goals.

Much has been written about the importance of "networking" within organizations. For instance, Robert Kaplan argues that cross-functional relations can serve as "trade routes" where the manager exchanges favors and establishes reciprocal relations in order to secure support and resources for his goals and objectives. John Kotter also points out that these amicable relationships carry with them "a sense of obligation," which the manager can use later by appealing to the sense of loyalty and friendship in these ongoing relations. In the collaborative organization where the manager is required to work with a large and frequently changing cast of characters, developing an ever expanding social network is critical to success.

Developing amicable relations with one's co-managers is a critical yet time consuming task. Managers must continually seek out opportunities to recognize and praise other co-managers for their accomplishments, provide other co-managers with assistance, do special favors for them and explore areas of common interest and need. The astute manager in collaborative organizations will recognize that these activities will pay valuable dividends in the future.

Establishing a record of credibility

In all organizations, managers who are perceived to act with personal integrity have been shown to have greater personal power than their less scrupulous counterparts. In collaborative organizations, however, where members of cross-functional decision making teams are likely to share different values, goals and interests, the integrity of the manager becomes critical.

In order to increase their lateral influence, managers in collaborative organizations must diligently work to foster a reputations for integrity and a record of credibility in their decisions. A manager who consistently advocates a course of action that may benefit himself at the expense of others is not likely to be trusted over time. This individual's decisions and recommendations will be looked at with a high degree of skepticism. which ultimately reduces the manager's ability to influence the opinions of others. On the other hand, the manager who develops a reputation for making decisions based on a broader set of organizational goals rather than his own individual needs develops the respect, trust and admiration of his colleagues. Clearly, a reputation for behaving with integrity can enhance the manager's overall personal power and effectiveness in collaborative organizations.


Many organizations today look vastly different from the highly centralized bureaucracies of the past. One revolutionary change has been the recent transformation toward more decentralized, collaborative organizations. These organizations attempt to create a high-performance, high-commitment culture through structural changes, changes in management style and the reorganization of work. Much has been written about the importance to collaborative organizations of such things as the physical layout of the workplace, selection and training practices for employees, the design of jobs, the formation of work-teams, alternative pay practices and other human resource functions.

Accompanying the shift to the more collaborative organization is the increased importance of lateral relationships for getting things done. These lateral relations demand new strategies of influence for effective management. Successful managers understand the nature of these lateral relations and work to develop alternatives to the traditional hierarchical authority as a power base for exerting influence.

For further reading

Block, P., The Empowered Manager: Positive Political Skills at Work. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1988. Cohen, A. R. and D. L. Bradford, "Influence without authority: The use of alliances, reciprocity, and exchange to accomplish work," Organizational Dynamics, Vol. 17. Falbo, T., "Multidimensional scaling of power strategies," Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol. 35. French, J. and B. H. Raven, "The bases of social power," In D. Cartwright (ed.) Studies of Social Power. Ann Arbor, MI: Institute for Social Research, 1959. Kanter, R., "Power failure in management circuits," Harvard Business Journal. Vol. 57. Kanter, R., "The new managerial work," Harvard Business Review, Vol. 67. Kaplan, R. E., "Trade routes: The manager's network of relationships," Organizational Dynamics, Vol . 12. Keys, B. and T. Case, "How to become an influential manager," Academy of Management Executives, Vol. 4, no. 4. Kipnis, D., Schmidt, S. M., Swaffin-Smith, C. and I. Wilkinson, "Patterns of managerial influence: Shotgun managers, tacticians, and bystanders," Organizational Dynamics, Vol. 12. Kipnis, D., Schmidt, S. M. and I. Wilkinson, Intra-organizational influence tactics: Explorations in getting one's way." Journal of Applied Psychology, Vol. 65. Kotter, J. P., Power and Influence: Beyond Formal Authority New York: Free Press, 1985. Lawler, E. E., III. "The New Plant Revolution Revisited," Organizational Dynamics. Vol. 19. no. 2. Manz, C. C.. Keating, D. E., and A. Donnellon. "Preparing for an Organizational Change to Employee Self-Management: The Managerial Transition." Organizational Dynamics, Vol. 19, no. 2. Safizadeh, M. H. "The Case of Workgroups in Manufacturing Operations." California Management Review, Summer 1991. Schlenker, B. R. Impression Management. California: Wadsworth, 1980. Tucker, S. A. and D. E. Strickland. |The Role of Compensation in High-Commitment Organizations," Perspectives in Total Compensation, Vol. 2. no. 6. Young, S, "Politicking: The unsung managerial skill," Personnel, Vol . 64.
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Title Annotation:Strategies For The 90s
Author:Thomann, Daniel A.; Strickland, Donald E.
Publication:Industrial Management
Date:Jul 1, 1992
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