Both in the private and the public sector it is the same song: Produce more with less money and also increase the employees' work satisfaction. And everything indicates that the problem isn't getting any smaller in the future. The competition keeps growing and prices drop. That is why productivity and efficiency is still one of the hottest topics among many companies. But the path to higher productivity and quality is not always “running faster”. Rather, it's about creating a common language, common goals and mutual respect.
The American professor, Jody Hoffer Gittell, calls this way of co-working relational coordination. In the early 00’s she conducted groundbreaking research that lead to the theory of relational coordination. In the book “The Southwest Airlines Way” from 2003 she examined which effect social relations have on our achievements. And her results are conclusive: When coworkers learn to respect each other’s jobs and work toward a common goal, the efficiency increases, the quality of work is improved and employees experience greater job satisfaction.
The method creates resonance in many organization and has found its way into many companies and governmental institutions.
In order to understand what relational coordination is all about, we first need to determine what social capital is, since relational coordination is actually a way to strengthen the social capital of an organization.
Social capital is a resource in your company like your financial or physical resources. Your social resources consists of the value that is created between the people in your company. Or put another way, the added value you and your coworkers create when you're working together. That's why companies with a high social capital (i.e. that's working together well) creates better results than companies with low social capital.
The social capital of a company depends on a combination of three factors:
If your company scores high on these three factors, it means that you trust each other, can and will collaborate and are capable of using the strengths of one another.
Advantages from relational coordination
Relational coordination helps supporting the social capital of your company, because it focusses on your working processes and on how your collaboration regarding work assignments is coordinated. Among other things it's about how your employees in every part of the organization are able to collaborate with each other across professional boundaries and hierarchy.
The world’s shortest questionnaire:
In its simplest form the social capital of the workplace can be measured as an average of the coworkers’ answers to these four questions. With five possible answers to choose from on each question (a scale from 0-4) it provides the ability of a score from 0-16 points. For instance, the average for Danish workplaces is 10.2 points. Below 8 is considered “very low social capital”. Above 12 points is “very high social capital”.
Gittell created the theory of relational coordination based on research she conducted in a range of American airline companies. One company, South West Airlines, stood out positively both according to efficiency, quality and coworker satisfaction. Since, Gittell has conducted similar examinations in the American health department and has, based on these examinations, identified a range of common characteristics in the ways coworkers coordinate and communicate.
Seven commonalities of a relational coordinated organization
According to Danish management- and organizational consultant Bo Vestergaard relational coordination particularly useable when there is:
The above are conditions that isn't found exclusively at airline companies and hospitals. Also manufacturing companies, schools, hotels etc. solves this type of assignments.
In order to improve the relational coordination Gittell suggests a few specific and practical solutions to the coordination problems that can even be easily implemented. One of the things that have been done, for instance in a Danish hospital, is to involve all professions (not just the doctors) in conferences and rounds. A simple solution to a problem that has been a challenge in the Danish health department where different professions have difficulty communicating to each other because of inflexible departments.
The efficient work processes we are able to improve and focus more on are, according to Jody Gittell: