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Creating Teamwork in the Midst of Organizational Chaos

Nasha London-Vargas
Workplace Institute

Organizational chaos can best be defined as a historical moment in which workers and organizations loose a sense of mutual commitment, and opportunities for both worker and organization are ambiguous. This radical transformation in the idea of work, offers both worker and organization a new opportunity for recreating a social contract with each other.

The quality of stress and strain that many of today's workers are experiencing is not only the result of being overworked, underpaid, and uncertain about job security; it is the result of rapidly shifting ground in which work and working has become unreliable. Organizations are in the midst of chaos. As companies flatten their organizational structure, and downsize their workforce, managers and workers have found themselves in work environments that have redefined the meaning of worker, work, and corporate culture. These fundamental changes in the workplace have left many of us in a state of mental paralysis. We are not sure what to do with the skills and knowledge that we have acquired during our work life. Many of us are living each day with the threat of being forced to leave our workplace before we are ready.

We are faced with the difficult task of reinventing ourselves in the midst of chaos, for it breaks the covenant that we all have had with society and workplaces. Organizations must create a new sense of community and teamwork within the workplace. Creating teamwork in the midst of organizational chaos is to create a work environment where all workers are made to feel as if they are an integral part of the organization's daily business as opposed to being a means to an end.

Developing Adaptive Capacity

Drucker (1995) suggests that it is up to the worker to develop the capacity to adapt in these economic times of uncertainty. According to Drucker, "being an educated person is no longer adequate, not even educated in management." Workers are going to have to take responsibility for their professional and personal development within their organization and will need to develop the insight for when is the appropriate time to move to the next job for additional training, education, and development. Organizations will also have to adapt to organizational chaos by creating work environments in which workers have opportunities to respond appropriately to the on-going workplace transformations. The climate of corporate America is unpredictable; therefore, it is becoming increasingly difficult for workers to be committed to an organization that is constantly stripping away elements of support that promote teamwork and community.

The relationship between an organization and its workers that many of us are familiar with should be reciprocal. This has been the historical orientation of the development of worker-workplace relations. The organization has a social responsibility to provide its workers with socioeconomic securities (health care benefits, social security plan, retirement, and pension benefits), and workers have the social obligation of working effectively and efficiently to meet the organization's productivity goal. Within a working environment many of us have experienced a sense of belonging, a shared mission and community, and these attributes have always been essential ingredients to managing chaos within the workplace.

According to Drucker (1995), organizations are designed as specialized tools in which teams put knowledge into work, products, and processes. However, this notion of teamwork is far too limiting; it does not express the character of the transformations in the workplace today. The bonding between workers which progressively occurs within the workplace has been eroding as a result of increased layoffs, temporary work assignments, work displacement, minimal benefits (full-time and part-time workers), and the disappearance of organizations all together. With most workers working in environments that do not cultivate team spirit or community, it may become necessary to redefine teamwork and corporate community.

A New Social Contract

The basis for this new social contract will be in the paradoxical views of the organization, the organization as a "destabilizing agent" and the organization as "community." Some organizational theorists, such as Drucker (1995), claim that an organization is designed to be a destabilizing agent that responds quickly to change. Organizations are unlike communities, societies, or families, in that they do not function as a mechanism to assist workers in the adaptation to change. Alternatively, Caggins (1995) suggests that organizations are social structures, and "the key to creating community versus chaos is in the attraction, commitment, normative integration and interdependence of the members of a community." Caggins' notion that work environments are like any other social organization implies that management (leadership) must cultivate these factors. People make relationships and have the capacity to develop communities and add meaning to work. An organization should not destroy the work spirit and community, which are necessary for adult development. While both Drucker and Caggins appear to have opposing claims, both provide useful ways of understanding today's organizational environment. Organizations are both destabilizing and community seeking. Organizations change by renewing themselves while workers seek continuity in work and in work environments.

Organizations and workers are experiencing chaos because the rules of the partnerships in the workplace have become too fluid. Workers must become self-contained, expecting to be utilized in a variety of workplaces. Workers have to become more generalized as well as specialized. This new worker will be more responsive to the shifting needs of workplaces. A new social function of an organization must include not only its responsibility as a social organization, but must perceive itself as an extension of the community in which it is a participant. Because of their fluid need for workers, organizations must establish themselves as hosts, or as repositories of knowledge from which any worker can avail herself/himself. As a repository, the new organization will have to become reliant on institutions of learning to create the necessary support for workers. The relationship of work and workplace might become more like a library whereby both the borrower and the lender benefits. The whole society benefits from a prepared workforce. An organization borrows from workers their knowledge and their capacity to work and an organization must establish itself as a social context for a broadly skilled or capacitated worker. The trick will be for both the worker and the organization to manage chaos by becoming fluid themselves, mutually evolving themselves in a turbulent world.

References

Caggins, R. 1995. "Toward community versus chaos when studying the concept of professional cohesiveness." Community-Chaos: Proceedings of the Eleventh Scientific Meeting of the A. K. Rice Institute.

Drucker, P. F. 1995. Managing in a time of great change. Truman Talley Books/Plume New York.

 


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