High-performing Organizations: Integrative Devices

Each of these high-performing organizations used a different combination of devices for achieving integration. As the reader will recall, the plastics organization had established a special department, one of whose primary activities was the integration of effort among the basic functional units (Table VI-1). In addition, this organization had an elaborate set of permanent integrating teams, each made up of members from the various functional units and the integrating department. The purpose of these teams was to provide a formal setting in which interdepartmental conflicts could be resolved and decisions reached. Finally, this organization also placed a great deal of reliance on direct contact among managers at all levels, whether or not they were on a formal team, as a further means of reaching joint decisions. As Table VI-1 suggests, this organization, the most highly differentiated of the three high performers, had the most elaborate set of formal mechanisms for achieving integration and in addition also relied heavily on direct contact between managers.

The food organization had somewhat less complex formal integrative devices. Managers within the various functional departments were assigned integrating roles. Occasionally, when the need for collaboration became especially urgent around a particular issue, temporary teams, made up of specialists from the various units involved, were formed. Managers in this organization also relied heavily on direct contact with their colleagues in other units. In this organization the managerial manpower devoted to integration was less than that in the plastics organization. Yet, compared with the container firm, the food organization was devoting a large amount of managerial time and effort to this activity.

Integration in the container organization was achieved primarily through the managerial hierarchy, with some reliance on direct contact among functional managers and on paperwork systems that helped to resolve the more routine scheduling question. Having little differentiation, this organization was able to achieve integration by relying largely on the formal chain of command. We are not implying that the other two organizations did not use this method at all. As Table VI-1 suggests, some integration did occur through the hierarchy as well as through paper systems in both of these organizations. But the great differences among functional managers seemed to necessitate the use of additional integrating devices in these two organizations.

From this discussion we can see another partial determinant of effective conflict resolution (in addition to those discussed in Chapters III and V). This is the appropriateness of the choice that management makes about formal integrating devices. The comparison of these devices in these three high- performing organizations indicates that, if they are going to facilitate the process of conflict resolution, they should be fairly elaborate when the organization is highly differentiated and integration is thus more difficult. But when the units in the organization are not highly differentiated, simpler devices seem to work quite effectively. As we have already seen, however, the appropriate choice of an integrating device is not by itself sufficient to assure effective settlement of differences.

All of the plastics and food organizations, regardless of per- formance level, had some type of integrating device besides the managerial hierarchy. These devices were not equally helpful in interdepartmental decision making because, as we have pointed out, some of the organizations did not meet many of the other partial determinants of effective conflict resolution. However, there was evidence in all organizations that these devices did serve some useful purpose. To at least a minimal extent they helped to bridge the gap between highly differentiated functional departments. By contrast, in the low-performing container organization there was no evidence that the integrating unit was serving a useful purpose. Given the low differentiation within the organization, there seemed to be no necessity for an integrating department.

This comparison of the integrating devices in the three high- performing organizations points up the relationship between the types of integrating mechanisms and the other partial determinants of effective conflict resolution. We have stressed earlier that these determinants are interdependent. Even though we have not been able to trace the relationship systematically, this statement seems to include the final partial determinant, the choice of integrative devices. In all these organizations the choice of integrative devices clearly affected the level at which decisions were made as well as the relative influence of the various basic units.

We should also remember that any one of these determinants is only partial and that they should be seen as immediate determinants only. We have not explored the causes underlying them.

Source: Lawrence Paul R., Lorsch Jay W. (1967), Organization and Environment: Managing Differentiation and Integration, Harvard Business School.

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