Academic journal article Journal of Managerial Issues

Reconsidering Organizational Structure: A Dual Perspective of Frameworks and Processes

Academic journal article Journal of Managerial Issues

Reconsidering Organizational Structure: A Dual Perspective of Frameworks and Processes

Article excerpt

Capturing a snapshot of organizational life is commonly achieved through the study of structure. The prevailing view of organizational structure is embodied within the concept of policies, prescriptions of authority, and hierarchies of responsibility. Termed structural frameworks, these allocations of work roles and administrative mechanisms allow organizations to conduct, coordinate, and control their work activities. While traditional structural frameworks are involved in shaping behaviors and activities, the actuality of structural communication processes arising within the firm represent a complementary snapshot of organizational life (Monge and Eisenberg, 1987; Pilotta et al., 1988).

Indeed, communication is viewed as the social glue which ties members, subunits, and organizations together (Porter and Roberts, 1976; Roberts and Galloway, 1986; Euske and Roberts, 1987). Drawing on a rich theoretical background, researchers have concluded that understanding how communication affects various aspects of organizational life is of critical importance (Blair et al., 1985). Termed structural processes, these elements refer to naturally evolving patterns of communication through which information flows in the organization (Jablin, 1982).

Numerous researchers have adopted this dual nature of structure, encompassing both the prevailing perspective of structural frameworks as well as the important dimension of structural communication processes (Hinings et al., 1996). While both of these dimensions are grounded in separate, well accepted streams of research, the integrated concept of the dual nature of structure has only recently been acknowledged as a critical merging (Skivington and Daft, 1991). Pennings (1992) denotes these two dimensions of structure as formal designs and spontaneous "grassroots" configurations. Galunic and Eisenhardt (1994) refer to the same dimensions as formal organization form and sociostructure. The terms utilized in the present study, frameworks and processes, have been adopted by Ranson et al. (1980), Skivington and Daft (1991) and Stryker and Statham (1985). Despite the variation in semantics, the commonality of these studies resolutely position structural frameworks and processes as equally important dimensions of organizational structure.

The traditional approach of capturing structure through frameworks is incomplete in that prescribed frameworks stand in a superficial relationship to the daily interactions in an organization. Similarly, understanding emergent structural processes would be incomplete without examination of the structural frameworks that evoke or constrain the communication. Hence, we examine the duality of structure, exploring the gestalts formed by frameworks and processes.

Three main themes guide the present research. First, structural frameworks, such as centralization and formalization, have maintained a longstanding and important role in the understanding of organizations. Second, these frameworks are paralleled by structural communication processes which emerge in the daily enactment of organizational life. These processes, grounded in the extensive field of communication theory, provide numerous contributions to the study of organizations. Third, the dual nature of structure can best be understood through the configuration of structural gestalts encompassing common combinations of frameworks and processes. To begin, we provide an overview of the relevant concepts, guided by the aforementioned themes. Next, we propose and empirically examine the performance implications of two common configurations of structural processes and frameworks. Based on-the results of our study, we propose several avenues which warrant further exploration.

Forming Gestalts of Frameworks and Processes

Structural Frameworks. Structural frameworks refer to the formal structuring properties of the organization. These structural properties embody the enduring configurations of roles and procedures for the performance of fundamental functions of the organization (Dalton et al. …

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