Sunday, December 30, 2012

Organizational Dynamics: Social Forces and Interpersonal Skills

Organizations are structures created to bring together people who possess requisite competencies and attitudes to deliver common organizational objectives for the companies they represent. The theories of organization have evolved over the years to identify appropriate methods and approaches, and tools and techniques by which an organization can function efficiently and effectively. The need for such theories arose because some of the fundamental and essential building blocks of organization such as departmental arrangements, performance management systems, business priorities, leadership opportunities while ensuring organizational delivery also generate forces of impedance. This, coupled with the fact that people tend to have dissimilar backgrounds despite sharing common criteria and objectives makes people management in an organization truly challenging and complex.    

Several types of organization structures have been devised to enable organizational dynamics that support rather than impede business objectives. Functional, geographic, business, project, matrix, and flat organizational structures are deployed to meet specific requirements. It has, however, been found that structures rarely solve anything by themselves and management of interpersonal relationships is something that has enduring substance and challenge. This blog post hypothesizes that organization being a social structure at its core interpersonal management needs to recognize and understand the social forces that operate in an organization. While interpersonal skills are important to ensure organizational harmony, the social forces in an organizational setting must first be understood.
Social forces
Just as an industry has competitive forces that impact firm performance, organizations also have social forces that impact team and individual performance. Similarly, just as there could be industry specific generic competitive strategies, there would be generic organizational strategies to manage the social forces effectively. Social forces in themselves fall under two categories, neither of which is necessarily bad nor good on an individual basis. Collectively, however, one set of social forces that are called Type A Forces collectively generate impedance while the other set called Type B Forces generate synergy. Both the types do exist in organizations. The challenge is to enable Type B Forces.
Type A Forces are typically five in number, and have a significant impact on how people, teams, departments and domains work together in a firm. These are rivalry, paradoxes, conflicts, misalignment and silos. It is easy to appreciate that each of the five forces is a natural corollary of organizational diversity while together they form a counterproductive set. Type B Forces, on the other hand, are inherently more positive, individually as well as collectively. These are collaboration, clarity, harmony, alignment and “one firm” as an operating paradigm.
Individual comparison makes it clear why Type B Forces are eminently more desirable for an organization. Collaboration, as opposed to rivalry, enables synergy of mutual strengths. Clarity as compared to paradoxes avoids loss of time and effort on confusing paths. Harmony as contrasted with conflicts ensures positivity and fulfillment. Alignment helps the value chain function seamlessly while misalignment leads to broken processes. And finally, when specializations and departments turn into silos processes slow down in an organization while the organization functioning as one firm works with synergy.
Generational styles
Type A and Type B Forces are not new to discover or aim for in organizations. They have been in existence from the very beginning of organized activity. Over time, conservative and non-competitive organizations are characterized by a preponderance of Type A Forces while proactive and competitive organizations are characterized by a preponderance of Type B Forces. Leaders have tried to manage these forces with different management styles. These styles are both the causes and result of the respective forces, and often represent generational differences in people management philosophies of managers and leaders.
Certain leaders facilitate and manage the Type A Forces in an organization by their Command and Control Style (CCS). Leaders adopting the CCS model simply direct people to obey. They typically let the Type A Forces build up and when they feel that such forces have become inimical to the organization they used their CCS model to root out the negative forces. This approach works in spurts, and is both a cause and a result of Type A Forces. In fact, team members who are observant of the CCS model adopt that in their own behavioral approaches leading to greater generation of Type A Forces.
Certain leaders facilitate and manage the Type B Forces in an organization by their Influence and Deliver Style (IDS). Leaders adopting the IDS model consciously inculcate in their people positive aspects of collaboration, clarity, harmony, alignment and one firm. They articulate a shared vision, detail out a workable strategy and demonstrate execution through constant employee engagement.  They are observant of the emergence of Type A Forces and work towards converting them into positive Type B Forces. As with the CCS model, team members who are observant adopt their own positive behavioral approaches, creating a virtuous organizational ecosystem.
Interpersonal skills
In the context of the foregoing, it is easy to observe that interpersonal skills would tend to be more impactful in an organizational ecosystem that has IDS leadership model and Type B Forces. In ecosystems marked by CCS models and Type A Forces, interpersonal skills act as temporary palliatives. The effort must therefore be focused on creating a positive organizational ecosystem that enables the full play of interpersonal skills. That said, there is considerable misreading of what interpersonal skills mean in an organizational context. While these are, no doubt, social skills they are not all about being nice to each other. In an organizational context, they have certain deliverables too.
Interpersonal skills, though falling under the category of social skills, are driven by technical or professional competencies. In today’s competitive world, managing people or partnering people is impossible without an ability to understand and analyze issues and present solutions. Strange as it may seem, competency is the foundation of successful cultivation of interpersonal skills. The foundation of being skilled interpersonally lies in the ability to build trust and rapport. Trust and rapport between individuals, whether they are colleagues or bosses and subordinates, are built based on three fundamental appreciations.
To be acceptable in an organizational setting, one should be aware that an issue or a problem exists, should be able to understand the ramifications and empathize with the other person who has the problem. This ability to build trust and rapport comes with the technical and professional competency to grasp problems and issues. In the absence of such an ability, the statements made by different individuals and departments  to each other in the ordinary course of business become positions of silos, rather than approaches of collaboration. Competency and trust thus coexist but can find the linkage only when people are able to connect through communication.
The third equally important enabler of interpersonal skills is communication. Communication, in an organizational context is not a matter merely or solely of language or grammar, which, of course, are nice to have. Communication is relevant and complete only when it comprises an equal and equitable measure of listening and speaking, enabling both the parties to communication developing a common platform, from which they can work together.  
Skill triad
Successful organizations approach organization dynamics in a holistic manner. While organization structures are drawn up to meet business needs, the real emphasis will be on creating an organizational ecosystem that promotes the positive Type B Forces of collaboration, clarity, harmony, alignment and one firm concept, managed by an Influence and Deliver leadership style. In such a solution, interpersonal skills are developed on a triad of professional competencies, trust and rapport building and communication. Organizational efficiency and effectiveness require a holistic approach as outlined in this blog post.
Posted by Dr CB Rao on December 30, 2012  









No comments: