Integrating differentiated behaviors

by Philip Boxer
Lawrence and Lorsch (1969) originated the framework of differentiation and integration for describing the agency of an enterprise. Their argument was that there had to be congruence between the forms of differentiation of behavior necessary for an enterprise to be viable, and the forms of integration of those differentiated behaviors needed for the enterprise to be able to sustain its identity. The level of differentiation of behavior at which there had to be congruence was itself determined by Ashby’s Law of Requisite Variety (1956), which stated that the variety of behaviors of which the enterprise needed to be capable had to be at least as great as the variety of demands it needed to be able to respond to in its environment.

In distinguishing levels of differentiated behavior, Emery and Trist (1965) identified four forms of ‘causal texture’ in the way demands were experienced by the enterprise in its environment:

  • Placid randomised, in which opportunities and threats were relatively unchanging in themselves, and randomly distributed throughout the environment. In this environment, which approximates to perfect competition, behaviour simply had to be operationally effective.
  • Placid clustered, in which the opportunities and threats were not randomly distributed, but clustered together in some way. In this environment, which is more like ‘imperfect’ competition, specialist forms of behaviour had to be available to address the different kinds of cluster.
  • Disturbed-reactive, in which there was more than one enterprise of the same kind in the competitive environment of the enterprise. This competitive environment approximated to the economist’s oligopoly. Each enterprise did not simply have to take account of the other when they met at random, but had also to consider that what it knew could also be known by the other enterprises. As a result, the behaviour of the enterprise had to be ‘positional’ in the sense of focused on being able to sustain positions it took up in the environment competitively.
  • Turbulent fields, in which dynamic processes arose within the environment itself which created significant variation for the enterprise to respond to – the environment was ‘alive’. In this environment, which was like a dynamic ecosystem, the behaviour had to be ‘relational’ in the sense that it had to be dynamically responsive to the particular way demands arose within its environment at any moment in time.

What distinguished this progression in behaviors was that they had to become increasingly differentiated if the enterprise was to remain viable. What particularly distinguished the fourth from the other three was that with turbulence, the ‘environment’ had to be related to by the enterprise as if it had a life of its own. This contrasted with the other three, in which the enterprise can treat the environment as if it was passive or reactive.
Whereas it is possible to argue that human service organizations in the public sector ought to treat the environment as if it had a life of its own, it does not follow that they actually do. In contrast, many ‘private sector’ businesses are having to learn how to organize relational behavior as a matter of competitive necessity even when they would prefer not to have to.

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