Other Types of Contingency Studies

1. Resolution

Another major theme of our research is the process of conflict resolution and the relation between states of differentiation and states of integration. Is there a comparable body of related research in this area? The answer is yes and no. Yes, there is a rich and growing literature on the dynamics of different kinds of conflict resolution. We will make no attempt here to review this literature except as it helps us to broaden our own view of the subject. The answer is mostly no, however, when it comes to studies of conflict resolution under various conditions of organizational differentiation. Some of the studies we have just reviewed provide the few limited exceptions. We shall briefly consider their relevant points, along with the prospects for future research on this subject.

In starting this discussion, we shall indicate that the general literature on conflict resolution has found it useful to distinguish between two general classes of conflict. This distinction is especially important for gaining perspective on the present research, since all the conflict we have considered has fallen into only one category.

The first and most widely researched class of conflict arises when each of two parties has an interest in an issue such that any gain for either is at the expense of the other. This situation has been called a zero-sum competitive game, a pure- conflict game, and an issue. The theoretically most effective strategy for dealing with this situation is the use of bargaining, in which each party starts with a public position favorable to itself, and each alternately makes concessions in exploring for any overlapping ground where agreement can be reached. This form of bargaining—called “distributive bargaining” by Walton and McKersie 21—involves withholding information about one’s own goals and aspirations while trying to elicit this same information from the other party. Wage bargaining between unions and management is the classical example of this type of conflict.

The other class of conflict involves a problem to which many solutions are possible. The potential benefits for the parties involved are not fixed. Though interests may conflict, there is always the possibility of finding an ingenious solution that minimizes these conflicts. The disagreements that arise out of selecting a new product idea from an open-ended set of alternatives is a perfect example of this type. Many, many items of information may bear on such a problem. The various parties may have favored alternatives, but the theoretically best strategy for resolving the conflict involves a rapid and complete sharing of available information, including the weights given to different selection criteria. Such an exchange would be followed by a joint search through the shared information for alternatives that best satisfy the combined selection criteria. Implicit in this process is agreement among the parties on basic goals at some higher level of abstraction, if not on the more immediate means to these ends. Walton and McKersie have termed this process “integrative bargaining.”

All the conflict situations we have considered in this re-search have been of this second type. The partial determinants of successful conflict resolution that we have empirically tested have a demonstrated relevance to this class of conflict. The usefulness of openness and confrontation is probably severely limited in zero-sum conflicts. The broader research on conflict resolution has thus given us a necessary conditional modifier to our findings.

As we have said, there has been relatively little research besides ours on how differences of organizational form influence the conflict-resolution process. The present study has clearly indicated that the degree of intramural difference in structure and orientation significantly affects integration and the resolution of interdepartmental conflict. We have seen that these differences are crucial in situations where there is no conflict of basic goals. Certainly they can be expected to further compound the resolution process where goals do conflict. Both the Woodward study and the Burns and Stalker research explored this topic, but only in a general descriptive way. Of all the studies already cited, Fouraker deals most systematically with the conflict-resolution process. Using his L (authoritative) and T (technical specialists) typology, he deductively demonstrates how the L type is suited to carry out distributive bargaining successfully, but how it would be at a severe disadvantage in an integrative bargaining situation. The T organization would reverse this pattern of advantages and disadvantages. He also hypothesizes about what happens when an L organization confronts a T organization in regard to each class of conflict situation. It is this type of proposition that needs further testing. A new and challenging line of research that takes account of organizational differences as contingent variables is now possible on conflict resolution. It would be especially pertinent for the needs of many modern organizations to conduct such studies on conflicts that arise among elements of multidivisional and multinational companies.

2. Individual Predispositions

Our own study and the others we have reviewed so far have focused on the contingent relationship between the internal characteristics of the organization and the demands of its external environment or its task. There is, however, another important variable, which we have treated as a minor theme. This is the relationship between the kinds of predispositions members bring to their jobs and the consequences that various organizational characteristics have on these members as individuals. Of the many modern studies of organizations that center on individual attributes, three especially highlight the contingency idea and show the futility of searching for universal answers.

Fiedler. We spoke earlier of Fiedler 28 as the developer of the instrument for measuring interpersonal style, which we have used in this study. Fiedler himself has made extensive use of this instrument to study the relations between leadership style and group performance under a variety of conditions. He varied conditions in three ways: (1) the simplicity or complexity of the task; (2) the prior feelings of like or dislike between the leader and his group; and (3) the amount of traditional power at the disposal of the leader. He studied the interplay among these variables in a considerable number of live and experimental groups. Without going into specifics, his general finding was that different kinds of leadership style paid off in high group performance under different conditions. The task-oriented style was associated with high performance under the extreme conditions, that is, when situations scored either very high or very low on his three contingent variables. The relationship-oriented style paid off for the middle-range conditions. This research clearly implies that there is no universally useful leadership style. Managers come into organizations with predispositions for using different interpersonal styles, but each style can contribute to performance under certain task and organizational circumstances. Perhaps eventually the results of Fiedler’s study can be linked with ours in applying the implications of both to the practical issues of organization design and staffing.

Vroom. In studying the reaction of different workers in a large parcel-delivery organization to the use of participative management methods, Vroom developed a similar contingency idea. In summary, he found that these employees had certain personality traits that predisposed them to respond (in terms of both attitude and performance) positively or neutrally to participative management. Vroom concludes:

The present study corroborated previous findings that par- ticipation in decision making has positive effects on attitudes and motivation. It was demonstrated further that the magnitude of these effects is a function of certain personality char- acteristics of the participants. Authoritarians and persons with weak independence needs are apparently unaffected by opportunity to participate in making decisions. On the other hand, egalitarians and those who have strong independence needs develop more positive attitudes toward their job and greater motivation for effective performance through partici- pation.

Vroom’s contingent variable, personality predispositions, is quite different from the task-environmental variables we have seen before. But the basic idea of studying the conditions under which different organizational practices are useful is the same, and is in sharp contrast to any search for universally valid practices. We should also note that Vroom’s findings are consistent with our less systematic observations on the differences in predispositions of people in our high-performing plastics and container organizations.

Turner and Lawrence. A finding somewhat similar to Vroom’s was reported from a study Turner and Lawrence did of workers’ response to different job designs.25 From a survey of 50 jobs in 11 industries they found that there was no universal response to variations in job complexity, which was determined by the built-in variety, autonomy, responsibility, knowledge, required interactions, and optional interactions. Rather, they found that two sets of workers, whom they labeled “city” and “town,” brought into the factory persistently different orientations about the meaning of work. One group saw it as an unpleasant means to a desirable end. To them work chiefly meant putting in time and effort for an economic reward. The other group tended to see work as an end in itself, as an opportunity to express oneself through exercising a complex skill. It was only when these predispositions were considered that the researchers could account for the relation they found between job complexity and workers’ satisfaction with their jobs. Once again we see the relation between an important organizational attribute, the complexity of industrial jobs, and employee response as contingent on some of the basic predispositions of workers.

We offer these three studies as examples of research that treats human predispositions as contingent variables in the study of organizational characteristics and outcomes. While other researchers, in a similar vein, are studying latent motivation patterns and the influence of aging and education, more research along these lines is certainly needed to generate a more comprehensive contingency theory of organizations. Such a theory will not only relate environmental characteristics to organizational attributes, but also will connect these variables to the varying predispositions of organization members.

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

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *