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Social Capital and Requisite Organization Should Get Married

E. Forrest Christian Theory 1 Comment

I’m suspecting that the big hole in Elliott Jaques’s theories are what Francis Fukuyama calls social capital, the level of trust that comes from familial connections or shared culture. This is pretty intuitive, and corresponds to some of the social theory I’ve learned.

What we seem to be missing is the middle piece that combines the two.

Francis Fukuyama doesn’t seem to understand all of hierarchies and Jaques ignores social networks altogether. A real theory of organization would acknowledge both and allow us to better predict those who would succeed in various roles. I’m not sure what the combination would look like, but I know enough people who have a partner or employee whom they can’t fire because “it’s my wife’s cousin”.

Although it seems impractical, these types of social capital relationships can move mountains. There needs to be a marriage of the two ideas, of informal networks — which dominated much of the engineering of the information economy and why you want your company in the midst of every other company in your industry — and formal hierarchies (which I believe that Elliott Jaques understood, amazingly).

Partly because all of this works with my ideas of project management theory: successful project managers must be competent to the Time Span of Discretion (TSD) or time-horizon of the project, which may well extend beyond the project, and they must be connected well-enough to get information about things that may be happening. It may well be, and I suspect it is, that requisite organizations create atmospheres of upward-spiraling social capital (shared norms and trust).

Groups of humans that eschew hierarchy and “organization” are able to try new things in a more creative way. Unfortunately, it takes a very long time to develop the group, and once the norms are in place, they will resist change.

I’m not sure that I am convinced by Argyris’s arguments that Model II behaviour can be taught or that it is necessarily good: there is something about the tacit knowledge embodied in the hiddenness of the undiscussables that may be needed to have a functioning social group. In a way, he is arguing for a rational disruption of norms, an examining of the hidden ways that work gets done. The problems that he identifies may be more readily expressed as a function of the breakdown of the reciprocal gifting and sense-making that should have occurred within the organization.

Changing the structure makes more sense. Attempt to organize in a more natural (requisite) way, eliminating some roles, adding others, so that those in them might have a greater chance to succeed. Requisite Organization then allows employees at all levels to create socially emergent norms of behaviour.

Medieval castles, from Fleur d'Histoire of Philip the Good

This trust is emergent — it is created “spontaneously” without intervention from the hierarchy. The hierarchy cannot create this trust but it can create rules by which standards of behaviour are known and enforced. However, rules-based control systems are inefficient, much like modern psychotherapy treating our symptoms (depression, relationship failure, etc.) rather than our problem, that of atomized society.

There’s something missing in RO theory, which is described in the ideas of social networks and social capital. There is something missing in social network theory that is described in detail in RO theory.

What is really interesting is that both of these “solutions to the ills of contemporary Western civilization” are socially based, rather than psychologically. Apparently, if you solve the social issues, the psychological issues will, if not disappear (not in this fallen world), at least become manageable rather than entrenched.


  • The Great Disruption: Human Nature and the Reconstitution of Social Order by Francis Fukuyama (1999)
  • Requisite Organization, (amended 2nd ed.) by Elliott Jaques (1998)
  • Overcoming Organizational Defenses, by Chris Argyris
About the Author

Forrest Christian

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E. Forrest Christian is a consultant, coach, author, trainer and speaker at The Manasclerk Company who helps managers and experts find insight and solutions to what seem like insolvable problems. Cited for his "unique ability and insight" by his clients, Forrest has worked with people from almost every background, from artists to programmers to executives to global consultants. Forrest lives and works plain view of North Carolina's Mount Baker.  [contact]

Comments 1

  1. Stratified systems and RO are often misinterpreted to suggest that it is solely the mechanistic and hard considerations associated with organizations that define their success. In fact Jaques would assert that fundamental to the functionality of any work organization in addition to creating the right structure are the social considerations satisfied through the proper application of managerial practices which have been defined as being essential and requisite in nature. Elliott defines the critical importance of functional collateral working relations and the need for immediate managers to collaborate effectively with their peers and subordinates as being essential to the achievement of goal oriented work. These are social activities. The very essence of creating a requisite work organization is one which offers benefit to society and one which is deployed against an overall degradation within the social ordering of the societies we occupy. We need to be fully cognizant of the possibility that the behaviours which we distinguish as being dysfunctional and corrupt within organizations, and for that matter society at large, are merely a correlate of systems which are dysfuntional and/ or corrupt. A simple example which ought not to attract much resistance within the context of what we are discussing can be defined by the stratum V candidate who is confined to a stratum II or III role within an organization. The individual becomes bored and frustrated and his or her behaviours are distinguished as being disruptive or dysfunctional. We are inclined to focus our attention on the individual as opposed to the possibility that the succession planning and talent pool or hierarchial systems may in fact be the underlying cause of the undesired behaviour. Also of critical importance are the prevailing culture and the myths that exist within those cultures which more often than not reflect the interpretation of the individual in respect of the values espoused by the organization which typically are assessed in their manifestation within the system. There are basic and fundamental values that all human beings in all societies are endeared to, yet the systems and the organizations they serve, can be interpretted to be a correlate of the undesired values, particularly within those organizations that are improperly structured and are non-requisite in nature. These values can be summarized in the following continuum:
    + –
    FAIR . . . . . . . . . . . UNFAIR
    HONEST . . . . . . . . . . DISHONEST
    COURAGEOUS . . . . . … . COWARDLY
    LOVING . . . . . . . . . . UNLOVING

    In each instance we need to consider the implications associated with the technical, social and economic systems and processes within the organization and the interdependence and inter-relationships among these critical processes. We would like to believe that all of this can be a simple undertaking and that very little sophistication need be applied to the understanding or design of critical systems and processes. The difficulty in fostering organizational change is that while organizations at their inception are all creative in nature as they mature they become focused on preservation and are reluctant to consider changes to essential systems, therein presenting a paradox. It is difficult to imagine that we will fully appreciate the benefits of requisite organizations, including the positive influence they have to offer to the broader society, until we adequately enrol a majority of the chief executives leading organizations into this distinct possibility.

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