Sunday, February 12, 2006

The Work of the Firm vs. the Relationships Within the Firm

Which matters more at work: getting the work done, or the social relationships among the people doing the work? Of course, both are important, and good social relations make for getting the work done with less friction. Still, in all jobs, this conflict exists.

I am not unbiased on this question. In fact, the conflict sometimes exasperates me to the point of threatening my gruntled state.

I think work comes first.

Moreover, I think putting the social relations of the workers first is one of the signs of failing organizations. In fact, this may be one of the main causes of the failure in the first place.

I believe this is what makes bureaucracies maddening so much of the time. For example, the work of serving customers would be better done if there were extra people covering the phones at lunch time, but it would be more pleasant for the workers if they shut down the phones and all had lunch together. Winning organizations will do the former, failing ones, the latter.

Jim Collins, in his superb study Good to Great, found that failing work groups tend to sink to the level of their most anxious member, whereas great work groups follow the leader in better serving the mission of the firm. In failing work groups, the other workers try to assuage the anxious by dropping the requirements of the work that the anxious ones find stressful.

Albert Hirschmann, in his classic Exit, Voice, and Loyalty, found that committed members of failing organizations will use voice – complaining, pushing, prodding, pleading – until it becomes too frustrating, after which they will tend to exit. As I read this, what the committed members are committed to is the mission, the product, the actual work of the organization. Their frustration comes from the fact that the work is not being done well, but it is multiplied many times by the fact that stated mission of the organization is being displaced by unstated goals which, more often than not, are driven by the convenience (or profit) of the less committed.

This conflict is at the heart of the argument between Carol Gilligan and Lawrence Kohlberg about whether personal relations, which women tend to value the most, should trump principles, which men tend to value the most, or vice-versa.

What does this have to do with the church, my usual Sunday topic? Churches are run by pastors. Pastors tend to respond to people, sometimes at the expense of the stated principles of the church. I see this constantly in the declining mainline churches, like mine. Growing churches, on the other hand, tend to talk about forming relationships with people in order to serve the higher mission of the church, of spreading the gospel. Declining churches are more likely to treat relationships with people, especially the people already within the congregation, as the mission of the church.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Of course getting the job done is most important, or eventually there won't be a work place for cordial social relations.