The Importance of Organizational Context, I: A Conceptual Model of Cohesiveness and Ineffectiveness in Work Groups

By Langfred, Claus; Shanley, Mark | Public Administration Quarterly, Fall 1997 | Go to article overview

The Importance of Organizational Context, I: A Conceptual Model of Cohesiveness and Ineffectiveness in Work Groups


Langfred, Claus, Shanley, Mark, Public Administration Quarterly


ABSTRACT

The authors develop a conceptual model of the effects of cohesiveness and group norms on group effectiveness, given differences in bureaucratic context--specifically interunit interdependence and informational and social support. They argue that cohesive groups with weak task norms will suffer from performance losses if interdependence is high but will be able to maintain group performance if task interdependence is low due to the social and informational support provided by cohesive groups.

INTRODUCTION

Work groups and teams have always been of critical importance for organizational effectiveness. In the current era of increasingly unpredictable change, this importance has only increased. For government organizations, trends toward deregulation, privatization, and a negative growth environment have forced administrators to rethink traditional policies and procedures and to become more entrepreneurial (Wilson, 1989; Osborne and Gaebler, 1993). For business organizations, increasing environmental turbulence, as reflected in trends toward globalization, have forced managers to rethink traditional bureaucratic structures (Galbraith and Lawler, 1993; Mohrman, Cohen, and Mohrman, 1995). In addition, the increasing frequency of restructuring, downsizings, and reengineering, as well as reorganizations due to merger and acquisition, have forced managers to reevaluate critically their organizational routines (Useem, 1993; Haspeslagh and Jemison, 1991).

These changes have led to the development of new organizational forms such as "network organization" and the "boundaryless" organization (Quinn, 1992; Ashkenas et al., 1995). Teams, as the fundamental building blocks of organizational design, are of critical importance to the success of these realignments (Cohen, 1993). New and more flexible "transformational" leadership styles are also important to motivate and direct teams in these changing circumstances (Tichy and Devanna, 1990; Kanter, Stein, and Jick, 1992). Team effectiveness depends on the ability of a group of individuals to function together coherently. We want better to understand the organizational context of group cohesiveness and effectiveness (Cummings and Staw, 1987). Recent reviews of research have highlighted the ambiguity of this relationship and attributed it to the failure of small group researchers to account for the importance of norms and organizational context (Guzzo and Dickson, 1996).

Researchers have also tended to focus on either group or individual levels of analysis, even though the effectiveness construct operates on both levels. Incorporating contextual factors and multiple levels of analysis should not pose a problem, however, as related fields of organizational analysis have long taken into account the complex effects of environmental and contextual factors (Scott, 1981). Prior research has suggested that the presence of task-related norms moderates the relationship between group cohesiveness and effectiveness. The likelihood of a positive association between cohesiveness and group effectiveness depends on the strength of a work group's task norms. The authors investigate how organizational context helps predict how such norms will influence the cohesiveness-performance relationship.

The authors argue that an organization's technology influences the strength of the cohesiveness-effectiveness relationship for a group within the organization. The relationships between technology, task-related norms, and cohesiveness also affect the performance of individuals within the group by influencing the ability of individuals to perform their tasks independently of the group and by addressing members' needs for group support in the face of task-related demands (Dunbar, 1981).

Of the many aspects comprising an organization's technology, much research has focused on subunit interdependence (Thompson, 1967; Mohrman, Cohen, and Mohrman, 1995). Independence implies that group tasks within the organizational division of labor require collective action by group members for their successful completion. …

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