Organizational Consultation XXII: Empowerment (Part Two)

Organizational Consultation XXII: Empowerment (Part Two)

Mechanistic Analogy

In many ways, the functioning of a decision-making group is comparable to the functioning of any other task-oriented system. A mechanical system, for instance, exhibits dynamics in many ways similar to those of task, method, and relationship. A machine is designed initially to accomplish a specified task; for example, producing an automatic transmission. This design stage is similar to the state of group development in which methods are considered. The group must be designed to accomplish the assigned task.

Once a machine is designed and built, it must be able to accomplish its mission successfully: produce the transmission. This corresponds to task work in the group. But a machine, when it functions, should generate a minimum amount of friction- for in the short run, friction will reduce efficiency and in the long run, excessive friction will require considerable maintenance to keep the system operating. Similarly, a group must be designed in such a way as to accomplish its task with a minimum amount of disruptive inter-personal friction. Negative relationship issues, such as hurt feelings, anger, fear, mistrust, or poor communication, have been shown to reduce the immediate efficiency and, eventually, to necessitate costly, time-consuming maintenance.

A group, like any human system, differs in some significant respects from a mechanical system. A human system incorporates emotional components, memory, and the capacity to learn. These factors combine to make the specific functioning of task group significantly less predictable than that of a well-designed machine. In practice, this means that the method or design issues must be approached in a tentative and experimental manner. What appears to be a satisfactory decision-making procedure at the first meeting may turn out by the third meeting to be inappropriate to the task.

For instance, the group members may decide initially to make all decisions by consensus—but discover as they work on their task that the task is just too large and the time too short to permit effective consensus decision-making. The group may use that information to revise its decision, subdivide the task, and form small task forces. Or, the initial method decision may generate process problems, like feelings of exclusion or not being heard; and the procedure may have to be adjusted to a more equitable one. The spirit of tentativeness that is recommended in dealing with method issues is less appropriate for task and relationship concerns; however, the effort of the group in task and relationship areas is always to move toward final resolution of problems


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William BergquistWilliam Bergquist, Ph.D. An international coach and consultant in the fields of psychology, management and public administration, author of more than 50 books, and president of a psychology institute. Dr. Bergquist consults on and writes about personal, group, organizational and societal transitions and transformations. His published work ranges from the personal transitions of men and women in their 50s and the struggles of men and women in recovering from strokes to the experiences of freedom among the men and women of Eastern Europe following the collapse of the Soviet Union. In recent years, Bergquist has focused on the processes of organizational coaching. He is coauthor with Agnes Mura of coachbook, co-founder of the International Journal of Coaching in Organizations and co-founder of the International Consortium for Coaching in Organizations.

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