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When I taught the principles class at UMUC during a summer of graduate school, I partnered with Teresa Heisler (who was an exceptional undergraduate student at the time) to study the effects of organizational structure on relationship outcomes. Our manuscript, titled “Relationship Outcomes in an Organisation With a Mechanical Structure,” is  available in PRism. Teresa starts graduate school at Johns Hopkins next spring.

Background

An organic structure, as opposed to a mechanical structure, enables employees to personally influence an organization’s decisions and policies, and it provides them with the autonomy to make decisions about their work that don’t need to be cleared with people at higher levels of the organization (L. A. Grunig, J. E. Grunig, & Dozier, 2002).

Research supports the importance of establishing an organic structure for effective internal relations (e.g., Boshoff & Mels, 1995; J. E. Grunig, 1992; Kim, 2007; Schminke, Ambrose, & Cropanzano, 2000).

Our Question

We wanted to find out if effective employee relations was possible in the context of an organization that has a mechanical structure.

Method

  • Study of a rural Air Force base located in the South Central region of the United States
  • 18 in-person interviews with military members, spouses who were stationed on the base, public affairs officers and the medical commander
  • Four-person focus group with military members and spouses
  • Follow-up interviews with seven military members to explore emerging conclusions

Key Findings

  • This study demonstrated that contrary to previous theorizing (e.g., Kim, 2007), a mechanical structure alone does not result in low control mutuality, trust, commitment or satisfaction among employees in every context.
  • Although previous theorizing about organizational structure held true for family members’ relationship with the Air Force base, military members were satisfied with the military’s mechanical structure.
  • Most military members who were interviewed thought they had little influence in decisions affecting them and did not think that decisions were made with their individual interests in mind; however, they were supportive of this arrangement due to the significant normative commitment they experienced with regard to their moral motivation to serve in the organization.
  • Although Boshoff and Mels (1995) found that participation in decisions increases commitment to an employer, the desire to participate in decisions was not an issue for participants, aside from problems with the healthcare facility.
  • Likewise, although job satisfaction is associated with an organic structure where employees are empowered with significant responsibility (Hage, 1980; Peters, 1987), the extent to which the military members in this study were satisfied with their jobs had nothing to do with the amount of autonomy they had in their roles.
  • The study provides empirical evidence to support J. E. Grunig’s (2002) statement that control mutuality can be high despite a low amount of control in the relationship when trust is high.
  • The study also provides evidence for symbolic interaction theory (Blumer, 1969) by showing a case in which people tended to view occurrences that could affect the relationship through the lens of what they already thought about the organization.

The study can be read here.

References

Blumer, H. (1969). Symbolic interactionism: Perspective and method, Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

Boshoff, C., & Mels, G. (1995). A causal model to evaluate the relationship among supervision, role stress, organizational commitment and internal service quality. European Journal of Marketing, 29(2), 23-35.

Grunig, J. E. (2002). Qualitative methods for assessing relationships between organizations and publics. Retrieved from http://www.instituteforpr.org/research_single/qualitative_methods_assessing

Grunig, L. A., Grunig, J. E., & Dozier, D. M. (2002). Excellent public relations and effective organizations: A study of communication management in three countries. Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.

Hage, J. (1980). Theories of organizations: Form, process, and transformation, New York: Wiley.

Kim, H-S. (2007). A multilevel study of antecedents and a mediator of employee-organization relationships. Journal of Public Relations Research, 19(2), 167-197. doi:10.1080/10627260701290695

Peters, T. (1987). Thriving on chaos. New York: Knopf.

Schminke, M., Ambrose, A. L., & Cropanzano, R. S. (2000). The effect of organizational structure on perceptions of procedural fairness. Journal of Applied Psychology, 85(2), 294-304.

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