The University of North Carolina at Wilmington
This paper explores the definitions and significance of organizational cohesion, action systems, compliance, culture of tradition, complete concrete systems, and symbolism in the context of organizational theory and organizational defense systems. Research draws on articles presented by Etzioni, Parsons, and Trist, as well as Argyris, Fuller and Barnett, Hogg and Terry, Ogbonna and Harris, Reagans and McEvily, Santos and Eisenbardt, Sciulli, and Tyndall. Practical implications of each term are included for the benefit of organizations interested in applying theory in practice.
Key words: organizational cohesion, action systems, compliance, culture of tradition, complete concrete systems, and symbolism
According to Etzioni (1961), cohesion can be defined as a positive expressive relationship among two or more actors that can reinforce negative and positive norms (p. ). He further differentiates cohesion bonds between persons of the same rank, peer cohesion, and cohesion bonds between persons of different ranks, hierarchical cohesion. The degree to which peer cohesion exists within an organization can determine how readily norms that are held by the majority of a given group or held by the most influential persons within a group will be accepted by the remaining group participants. In other words, peer cohesion dictates the degree to which actors within a given group are likely to mimic or adopt each other’s behavior and/or values. It has also been suggested by Homans (1951), that there is a direct correlation between the frequency and endurance of interaction within a group and the level of a group’s cohesiveness. In other words, the more group participants interact, the more likely it is that they will adopt each other’s mannerisms, outlooks, or orientations toward the larger group of which they are a part (Etzioni, 1961, p. 290). Assuming that norms that are beneficial to a particular organization are being fostered via peer cohesion, such as intra-team cooperation, the net effect could be a highly productive work environment with low employee turnover. Etzioni’s research implies that organizations with high peer cohesion tend to have low employee turnover, which reduces costs involved with recruiting and socializing new employees, knowledge capture, and maintaining daily work routines. However, it is important to note that cohesion can reinforce both negative and positive norms, which is to say behaviors that alienate an employee from an organization as well as behaviors that reinforce one’s commitment to an organization (p.280 ). Reagans and McEvily (2003) suggest that cohesion, specifically social cohesion, influences the willingness of individuals to devote time and effort to assisting others within a given group, in addition to serving as a motivator to transfer knowledge to a coworker or colleague (p. 245). Ultimately, cohesion within an organizational group, can encourage a “you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours” effect that can encourage knowledge exchange across employees and reduce direct peer-to-peer or intra-departmental competition amongst employees (Reagan & McEvily, 2003, p. 245). In other words, “by limiting competition, social cohesion promotes knowledge transfer,” which is an essential component of a learning and innovative organization (Reagans & McEvily, 2003, p. 247). Although organizational cohesion can foster “exchange relationships that build commitment” (Tyndall, 2012, p.3), it is essential that organizational leaders recognize tipping points wherein too much cohesion could increase group-think and inhibit innovation, performance, and potentially disrupt a work-group’s alignment with the overall organization’s values, should a given group’s norms contradict such values (p.4).Where...