Power – Rule – Change

blog immagine

Power – Rule – Change

Already I see you shaking your head: power, rule, change … but there was no talk of agile, creativity, delegation …

If you remember our last chat about organizational vertigo and the ’emptiness that attracts change’, we cited Erhard Friedberg and his vision of change expressed in the two texts The actor and the system (with Michel Crozier) and the Power and the Rule. Well … here we are again talking about them!

In #ilteamgiusto with Paolo Chinetti we explored the theme of the rule, of the norm of behavior as a mental model or practice of collaboration that helps to create the climate, the sense of cohesion, a context in which to express oneself freely (to encourage innovation and adaptation). We have therefore dealt with the organizational frameworks of teamwork, but we have not analyzed in depth the relationship between the rules and the authority to exercise it. All in all, we have taken it for granted, or included, in the idea of ​​leadership. Well, Friedberg offers us a sociological vision of organized action, based on the concepts of power and rule, and shows us team action from an even different point of view.

For Erhard Friedberg and Michel Crozier, organized action is “the process through which strategic interactions between a set of actors placed in a given field of action and mutually dependent for the solution of certain ‘problems’ are stabilized and structured. common”. As you can see, this is a more sociological definition of the action of a team than the usual …

Their approach identifies four main elements in this regard:

  • a strategic actor (being an individual, a group or any other collective entity) with their own interests who interacts with other actors – also acting strategically;
  • a concrete system formed by interacting actors;
  • the game as a mechanism of integration / interaction between actor and system in which each actor has his own interests, but also the interest in keeping alive a concrete system of action;
  • power as a capacity for action which is the unbalanced exchange of possibilities for action and which has four sources (i.e. the mastery of specific specialized knowledge, the control of information and communication resources and organizational rules) (Crozier and Friedberg 1979, 1995).

The peculiarity that I would like to emphasize is that, unlike the managerial and leadership schemes typical of our technical and operational world, these authors explain organized action on the basis of dynamic “empirical systems of actors”. Can we talk about ecosystems based on interpersonal relationships? I would say yes.

The topic of competence is also of great importance, and we will see it later.

Starting from this vision, the authors give us a very solid explanation of why the ‘rule’ is continually put on the line in a company. Indeed, the disordered nature of organizations can be explained by resorting to the weight of informal structures. The multiple, variable and perhaps contradictory aspirations and motivations of the members of an organization compete and contrast with the economic rationality of the organization that its objectives, its structure and its formal rules should express. They give life to a parallel world, generating a set of phenomena that are embodied in an informal structure and in latent objectives through which the members of the organization seek to satisfy the needs that the simple logic of efficiency embodied by the formal structure of the organization it does not allow them to please. This is where the game of behavior is played and this is where the rule and, therefore, power come into play.

In fact, the regulation of the behavior of the actors involved in a shared field of action can be seen as a form of organization of power. Power is the unbalanced exchange of possibilities for action between a set of individual and / or collective actors. There are three important implications to be drawn from this definition.

  • Power is inseparable from the relationship through which it is exercised, and which binds concrete people each time around a specific issue (eye, this is fundamental…). 
  • Power is the natural and normal manifestation of human cooperation which always presupposes a reciprocal and unbalanced dependence of the actors (there is no escape from power relations!). 
  • Since power is a relationship, it cannot be unilaterally imposed by those who have it on those who do not (especially in the context of teamwork).

The behavior of the different participants in a power relationship always contains two contradictory and complementary dimensions at the same time, they are implied by two simultaneous strategies.

  • The first of the offensive type aims to increase the predictability of others by reducing their room for maneuver.
  • The second, of a defensive type, aims at the same time that everyone reduces their predictability by protecting and extending their autonomy and room for maneuver (and in fact the interchangeability of each participant becomes an important issue, if not the main issue of any power relationship. , as it reduces the autonomy of the participants).

Like this, at one extreme, we can imagine a field where there is strong competition and where an indisputable measurement technique makes it possible to measure everyone’s performance. In this case the autonomy is minimal.

At the other extreme we would have a field of action in which the objectives, the needs of the requirements of the different participants would be ambiguous and difficult to articulate, no one would have reliable information on the performance of others. In this case, the autonomy is maximum.

Reality lies somewhere between these two extremes.

In this sense, an action framework such as scrum, or the waterfall itself, aims to make all exchanges predictable, to regulate relationships in a simple and shared way, to allow the interchangeability of roles, resulting in the redistribution of power and focusing on the objective.

Effective regulation is always the product of a mix where formal prescriptions and informal processes mix, supporting each other, and where formal prescriptions are rooted in a power structure and processes of informal exchange and negotiation, for which they in turn provide topics and resources. But formal regulation is always essential insofar as it allows to establish legitimacy, to freeze hierarchies, to structure a balance of power, in short, to protect the actors of a field by blocking it against too brutal reorders.

At any time, the structuring of the field can be understood as a set of games whose rules and conventions (formal and informal) govern the opportunistic tendencies of the actors and channel, regularize, make their defection more expensive if not always predictable by stiffening the mechanisms. of exchange and ‘opacifying the space of transactions to thus arrange areas of possible negotiation’.

Insofar as it presupposes the exploitation of uncertainties in front of others, insofar as its exercise is linked to negotiation and bargaining, power as conceived by the organizational and sociological approach raises the question of its links with the competence of the actors and this in two different ways.

First of all, through skills, that is practical knowledge that allows you to control uncertainties, power can act effectively.

Power is linked to the notion of competence at a second level, that of the competence of individuals and groups to face this reality instead of hiding it. Their family and social learning has enabled them to forge frames of reference, conceptual means and a brief psychological framework of cultural tools enabling them to master the affective consequences of relationships with others, but in a very unequal way. Consequently, competence forges the ability to exercise power within an organization.

OK, this roundup is pretty heavy. Therefore: the rule mitigates the intensity of the exercise of power, redistributes its management and simplifies negotiations / interactions. Competence allows the exercise of power and rationalizes its use.

What perspective does change take, then, and what role does power play in this area? Let us remember that the adaptation of the strategy, the ability to cope with new system conditions, leads us to reach the goal of the team task: it is above all the possibility that gives power to effectively transform the structure of the system of actors in question into the direction intended to justify it.

The perspective of change is a case-by-case perspective, and therefore his is a relational and behavioral nature. Whether it is about introducing changes to procedures and other apparently soft devices or, on the contrary, apparently hard, it is precisely the modification of real behaviors to which the intervention must aim, which implies a long-term investment and above all in time management. .

Hence: power, rules, hierarchical organizations, informal organizations, stability, opportunism, conventions, competence, behavior, predictability, ambiguity, change. The fascination of human relationships.

Leave a Reply

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