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Managing Constructive Coalitions Published: Sunday, October 14, 2001 By: Dr. Manuel Ángel Morales

It is very interesting that with so many studies performed by Richard Cyert from Carnegie-Mellon University and James G. March from Stanford University so little is often done to understand and apply coalition theory. One of the important issues of this profound research tradition is to establish what circumstances and in what ways various interest groups coalesce into a constructive power configuration. A fundamental aspect of a coalition is that its scope and meaning can vary depending upon the rank of the interest group, specially relative to skill and to expertise…

How many interest groups conform a coalition? There are a number of characteristics that can create a interest group, but these can be usefully reduced to four essential themes; occupation, level in the hierarchy of authority and status, similar goals or values, and socially ascribed attributes…

An essential task for designing and managing a coalition is to decide first what are the basis on which coalitions are likely to be configurated, and second, when do these bases tend to breakdown. An interesting angle is that where high risk or crisis decisions are perceived coalitions tend to dissolve and new ones tend to emerge. There are two scientific propositions useful to the task of structuring coalitions. The greater the proportion of members who have low ranks, the more important will be hierarchical levels and social characteristics as the basis of interest group formation. The greater the proportion of members who have high ranks, the more important will be the occupation and value preferences as the basis of interest group formation. When different interest groups couple they tend to form a coalition.

As societies and organizations progress they develop a large number of values which become the basis of derived goals. The point is that as things become more complex, there are many derived or residual problems upon which individuals can form values, just as there are more occupational specialties designed to solve those problems. As the concentration of specialists increases, the distribution of power becomes more decentralized and the formation of coalitions will be either on similarity of tasks-activities or on value-idiosyncratic preferences. But since different occupations have different activities and scopes, the concentration of specialists makes coalitions more difficult to form, manage and maintain.

Due to its essentially informal nature, coalitions do not tend to be permanent. The key basis for coalition formation is a system of agreement about strategic choices that the organization has and should select. It is always more easy to manage agreement based on future decisions, than stressing present challenges or critical issues. However, there is also an interesting paradox. Implicit is a long-term trend towards greater instability of coalitions in organizations, because occupations produce large differences that make stable coalitions difficult and since value preferences are not necessarily stable but contingent.

A final predicament on designing and managing constructive coalitions. Agreements about strategic choices are at best fragile coalitions, easily weakened in the face of changing circumstances or failure relative to performance and results.  


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