Coordination Mechanisms


Galbraith (1973, 1977) uses information processing capacity as an artifact and determinant of structural features. Information requirements increase as a function of increasing diversity, uncertainty, and interdependence of work processes (Scott p. 231). He then explores various modifications organizations use to adapt to increased demands for information processing. In increasing order of handling info complexity (and execution cost), he defines:

1. Rules and programs -- agreements to how to do work process prior to actual performance. Often are embedded in formal documents.

2. Schedules -- Needed with different activities or sequential interdependence present. Increasing uncertainty is handled by shortening the plan - replan cycle.

3. Departmentalization -- Organizations group tasks according to their homogeniety (early theorists) or interdependence (Thompson, 1967) . Thompson sees pooled interdependence in more separate units, sequential interdependence in more close units, and reciprocal interdependence in the same or close units. Organizations group tasks to minimize coordination costs (Thompson, 1967) -- which is a special case of Williamson's transaction costs (1975).

4. Hierarchy -- Fayol noted that officials can help deal with special exceptions to standard work processes, but hierarcy also is another task grouping mechanism. As information flows become more complex and interdependent between units, often organizations then place hierchy over both units to improve information flow and control.

5. Delegation -- Rather than have formal quidelines, organizations can set targets or goals and give units more autonomy to meet them. This occurs most often with professional occupations.

6. Micro-coordination -- Recognition that the task object often has some ability to monitor and control the actions placed upon it (whether it be students, clients, etc.).

Reducing Information Vs Increasing Capacity
When uncertainty, diversity, and interdependence get too high Galbraith argues that organizations have two basic options -- reduce the amount of information processed, or increase the info handling capacity.

Reducing Information Processing
7. Product-based vs Process-Based Departmentalization -- gathering all production tasks of one product into one department can reduce the amount of information needed to coordinate and control. The gains by increased homogeniety of task (and goals) are offset by reduction in economies of scale and variety.

8. Slack Resources
Reducing the required level of performance can create slack -- unused resources -- that can help ease the strain in the system. For instance, delivery deadlines could be extended, inventory controls relaxed, etc. Building redundancy or alternative paths in the work flows can also help reduce information processing needs. Slack reduces the need for info processing through reducing the interdependence between units.

Some slack is necessary for smooth function, as systems cannot be specified exactly and have some inefficiencies. The difficulty is deciding how much slack to permit, as it is costly.

It appears that the introduction of computer technology and networks is allowing increased interdependence between units (e.g., designers and manufacturers through networked CAD systems).

Increasing Information Processing Capacity

9. Augmented Hierarchies
Hierarchical systems can become overloaded if the info processing requirements become too great. Increasing hierarchical capacity can occur in two ways. One is to create specialist roles that gather and synthesize information used in higher level decision making (e.g, inspectors, accountants, secretaries). Recently these tasks have been increasinly resident in computer systems.

Another way is to use the staff-line principle what can help increase problem-solving ability without sacrificing the "unity of command" principle (though sometime power shifts from line to staff in this arrangement).

10. Lateral Connections
Developing more laterial connections across divisions is often much more efficient than relying on the "up-across-down" interdivisional flow of information in hierachical communications. These augment the more information relations across divisional boundaries that develop and make it a more formal part of the structure. The tradeoff is in the transfer of some control from hierarchical schemes to more lateral, inter-divisional schemes. Some mechanisms of this (in increasing levels of lateral control) are:

A. Liasion Roles -- roles that bridge two groups and have responbilities in troubleshooting, integrating, conflict resolution, etc. Lawrence and Lorsch (1967) describe the responsibilities and characteristics of these successful staffers.

B. Task Forces -- a temporary group made up of part-time or full-time people from several departments set up to address a specific task. It facilitates inter-departmental interaction but is hindered by ignored status distinctions between members and existing goal differences between departments. Often task forces serve as safety valves to reduce tension caused by hierchiacal effects.

C. Project Teams -- these are more permanent than task forces, and members are more often full time. Usually there is a project leader assigned to coordinate group activities and department officers would delegate some authority to the project leader while making sure their own participating members are treated fairly.

D. Matrix Structures -- This unique form has both hierarchical and lateral authority chains -- "competing bases of authority are allowed to jointly govern the work flow" (Scott p. 239). While the functional departments remain the 'home base" for the participants, additional control structures are set up across departments, usually around a specific project (see Davis and Lawrence, 1977). Often consulting organizations operate on a loose matrix system.

The matrix system elevates the conflict between product and functional interests.