Relational coordination (RC) is a mutually reinforcing process of communicating and relating for the purpose of task integration. More simply, it is the coordination of work through relationships of shared goals, shared knowledge, and mutual respect. The mission of the newly formed Relational Coordination Research Collaborative is to bring academics and practitioners together to develop and test relational approaches to organizational change, informed by the theory of relational coordination.
Like other fundamental process improvements, relational coordination enables organizations to shift out their production-possibilities frontier to achieve higher levels of quality, while simultaneously achieving greater efficiencies. Relational coordination is expected to be particularly useful for achieving desirable performance outcomes under high levels of task interdependence, uncertainty, and time constraints.
How can we deliberately intervene to change relational dynamics in order to produce sustainable, cost-effective, high quality outcomes?
So far, we have learned quite a bit about relational coordination and performance, especially in service settings such as airlines and healthcare. But we know relatively little about how to get from here to there. What does the change process look like? A relational model of organizational change currently under development by Amy Edmondson, Edgar Schein, and me includes several key elements: relational interventions carried out in the context of work process improvement to achieve changes in patterns of workplace interaction, followed by changes in formal structures to reinforce and sustain the new patterns of interaction.
Our primary goal as a Collaborative is to learn what works and what doesn’t by creating a framework for learning from the many experiments that are being conducted around relational approaches to organizational change. To accomplish this goal, the first RCRC Roundtable—“What Works and What Doesn’t? Building Evidence for Relational Coordination and Organizational Change”—is being held in Cambridge, Massachusetts on October 28th. A group of over 50 academics and practitioners will consider three challenges: Designing Interventions as Experiments; Measuring Interventions and their Impact; and Building and Assessing Evidence Through the Science of Improvement.
Perhaps what is most intriguing about the Collaborative is the use of quantitative methodologies to measure and map the highly qualitative processes of relational coordination and organizational change. We are developing methods—like relationship mapping—that help to make relational dynamics visible to participants for the purpose of establishing the current state, then reflecting on it and transforming it as part of a broader intervention. Other methods may be useful for assessing the effectiveness of interventions, for example, using pre-and post-intervention measures of relational coordination.
For further background, see “New Directions for Relational Coordination Theory” in the Oxford Handbook of Positive Organizational Scholarship (Oxford 2012), and visit our website at http://relationalcoordination.org.