The Missing Link - Organizational and Dyadic Collectivism

A melange of different kinds of people in a firm can be a real challenge. Strategic management practices often fall short at the implementation stage if they don’t consider the different ways that members of a diverse workforce do or don’t relate to others and to the firm. Drawing on research in social psychology, comparative management and organisation theory, Professor Steven White and Aki Nakamura search for the meaning of "collective." After conducting interviews with Japanese and Chinese working in the same firms, their evidence indicates some new perspectives and the difference that understanding makes in terms of management.

by Steven White, Aki Nakamura
Last Updated: 23 Jul 2013

To manage an organization well and to gain employee cooperation and confidence, you must first have an answer to some very basic questions. For example, how do employees feel connected to the organization itself, as well as to others with whom they work? Or, to what is a loyal employee loyal?

Steven White, Assistant Professor of Asian Business at INSEAD, and Aki Nakamura, PhD candidate at Nagoya University, conducted research that uncovered a dichotomy between different kinds of relationships can be the source of enormous tension.

Over four years, they interviewed Japanese managers and Chinese employees (both line workers and managers) in Japanese-owned subsidiaries in China. The findings indicate that the Chinese and Japanese may work in the same organization but are worlds apart, mostly on account of how they interpret their relationships to the organization and to one another.

The authors delineate some essential differences that should be considered for efficient management. Using their data and drawing upon past research, they distinguish between the varying definitions of the term ‘collective’ and recognize the new mental models of the collective occurring in these particular organizations.

So, what is the "collective?" If you look to the past for an answer, you’ll find two main definitions, each with its own implications for interpreting and understanding individual behavior and organizational dynamics.

Some understand "collective" as a community, wherein the organization is more than just the individuals that make up the group. It is a separate entity from the people within it with special and urgent needs that reach beyond the needs of each member. Others understand that the "collective" is the set of individuals with which one has particular ties, his or her "in-group."

While these definitions are valid, they are clearly different concepts, sometimes used interchangeably within the same study. This causes confusion from the start, and when managers try to analyze the inner-workings of their firms without a clear understanding of the alternative (and usually implicit) meanings that employees may have, then the waters become even murkier.

As a result of their research, the authors identified two alternative models of the "collective" in the particular context of the Japanese-Chinese work environment. The organizational collectivist views the firm as a set of individuals who have ties with the same collective entity. The network collectivists see the collective as a set of individuals with whom he or she has direct, indirect, or no ties.

In terms of salient relationships, the organizational collectivist sees the firm as an exchange partner, giving loyalty and effort and receiving both tangible and intangible benefits in return. Any interpersonal relationships are secondary to, or are only relevant because of, their mutual ties to the same organization. The network collectivist, in contrast, defines the firm as a collection of individuals circumscribed by an arbitrary boundary. He understands it in terms of the relationships he has with particular individuals, and engages in direct and indirect exchange with these other individuals. The “organization” is only a legal entity, not an exchange partner.

Finally, the organizational collectivist pursues collective goals and objectives, even sacrificing his interests or relationships for the needs and objectives of the collective. The network collectivist, on the other hand, places organizational goals subordinate to the pursuit of goals that benefit him and his set of exchange partners.

These differences are manifest in very different beliefs, values, behaviors and interpretations that characterize the tension between the two groups they studied.

INSEAD 2002

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