Dome of the Belgian royal greenhouses in Laeken (external). (c) E. Forrest Christian

Does Requisite Organization Build the Trust for Social Capital?

E. Forrest Christian requisite organization 7 Comments

Can Elliott Jaques’s theory of Requisite Organization and trust-building hierarchies mesh with Francis Fukuyama’s social capital arguments regarding trust and trust-building within a culture?

I hypothesize that it all hangs together off some meta-theory that they all touch but don’t quite articulate. I’m not sure what that is yet but I’d like to get to it. Maybe someone else already has and I’m reinventing the wheel. That’s okay: I’m just as happy about having come to conclusions that some genius already has. I remember how delighted I was when I realized that I had created Weber’s arguments about Protestantism and the rise of capitalism before ever reading his work. Of course, it permeates the culture, but I still got a thrill from it, even if I didn’t get an “A”.

According to Jaques in the introduction to Requisite Organization: A Total System for Effective Managerial Organization and Managerial Leadership for the 21st Century (1996) the aim of requisite organization theory of management structure is:

to develop organizational structures and organizational processes which can provide the top flight working and business effectiveness, in which:

  1. People can rest secure in the knowledge that they can trust each other to work together in an honest and straight forward manner.
  2. They can use their personal capability to the full, both to their own personal satisfaction, and to the contribute fully to the successful functioning of the organization.

The problem is trust.

Distrust destroys organizations. The Roman Catholic Church in America is facing dire times because they had been surviving off the largess of previous generations’ accumulation of trust. This trust has been largely destroyed by the pedophile priests scandal. The pedophilia of certain priests, while not necessarily inevitable is certainly statistically predictable in such a large population, is troubling but not disastrous. The church leadership’s handling of individual cases, moving a priest rather than disciplining him, led to the current mistrust among the laity. Of course, we can argue that the church should have kept the events quiet for the good of the victims, but certainly there should have been some repercussions for this type of sin that were larger than simply moving to another parish.

Had the Catholic leadership dealt severely with this egregious sin against its own young, the laity would still be firmly behind it, as would their contributions. Instead, the church covered up the scandals and failed to discipline most priests who were accused. This may have been similar to events in my own family’s past generations, where certain men were not allowed to be alone with young girls and the girls were warned clearly to avoid him. So perhaps their response to their own’s sins fit with the times.

They may also have been reluctant to address the issue because of the constant accusation of pedophilia and homosexuality among the Catholic clergy by conservative Protestants. However, because they avoided the problems then, they paid a much larger price now. The Catholic church could have taken action which would have chilled some of the behaviour in the priesthood but did not choose this difficult and hard path.

This distrust of the leadership to handle sin within its own ranks led to a incredibly quick destruction of the laity’s trust.

I’m not sure what Jaques would have said about this scandal, or indeed what he did say before he died in 2003. He generally states that if you get the organizational structures right, trustful relationships will develop. The Roman Catholic Church has two parts: one is the membership which would be an association in Jaques’s terms; the other is the management accountability hierarchy of the clergy, which would fit his idea of a MAH. The way that one deals with an Association is quite different from how one deals with those in the hierarchy.

I think that Jaques’s ideas about the Association &#8212 which are only briefly touched on in the works that I have read thus far but are perhaps more fully developed in Health Services (1978), Hospital Organization (1973) and A General Theory of Bureaucracy (1976) &#8212 could more fully inform the ideas of social capital and social trust. And I think that he didn’t quite get that MAHs have Associations within them. For example, a manufacturing firm will have hierarchical organization but will also have engineers in their own professional society which meet the definition of Association. I’m also interested where the idea of clique or social group ends and “association” (whether Jaques’s or Fukuyama’s definition, although they may not differ that greatly) begins.

I’ve been reading Francis Fukuyama’s work lately, particularly Trust: The Social Virtues and the Creation of Prosperity. He argues about trust, obviously, but in a different way.

… when the information age’s most enthusiastic apostles celebrate the breakdown of hierarchy and authority, they neglect one critical factor: trust, and the share ethical norms that underlie it. Communities depend on mutual trust and will not arise spontaneously without it. Hierarchies are necessary because not all people within a community can be relied upon to live by tacit ethical rules alone. A small number may be actively asocial, seeking to undermine or exploit the group through fraud or simple mischievousness. A much larger number will tend to be free riders, willing to benefit from membership in the group while contributing as little as possible to the common cause. Hierarchies are necessary because all people cannot be trusted at all times to live by internalized ethical rules and and do their fair share. They must ultimately be coerced by explicit rules and sanctions in the event that they do not live up to them. [p.25]

At first, it seems like he would disagree fundamentally with Jaques. But let’s see first where they meet. Fukuyama’s ideas about the hierarchy imply that these organizational structures are necessary to maintain trustful relationships because they have the ability to coerce and sanction those who do not want to play well with others. In this way, he would be arguing that hierarchies create trust by reducing the amount of actions that will not follow the rules. Jaques, of course, makes a much stronger argument that requisite hierarchies create trust between subordinates and boss, and between subordinates and subordinates. They both believe that hierarchies can be useful in creating trustful relationships but differ on whether hierarchies create good trust.

However, the social network of relationships, so necessary to social capital and trust in Fukuyama’s discussions, is strengthened by a Requisite Organization. I hypothesize that when a company becomes requisitely organized (structured naturally), the new structure creates trustful relations between peers (at the same level) which provide the necessary antecedents for social networks. This provides a platform for knowledge sharing or trading and other forms of social networking. If I can trust my peers to peer with me, then I can enter into a variety of creative work arrangements with them. When structure is clear already, we can get down to work.

A Requisite Organization does not remove the need for these social networks in the work environment. Instead it may create an atmosphere of trust that fosters their development.

I wonder about the areas that Fukuyama identifies as distrusting societies: southern Italy, China (PRC and Taiwan) and France. Would an requisitely organized business perform better there, or would the idea simply not work? I think that Requisite Organization would require an associative society with looser familial relationships (e.g., U.S.A., Germany, Japan) in order to work. Perhaps these nations cannot have requisite organization structure for their businesses since to do so would be to go against the strong nepotism that underlies their success.

It may be that the only organizations that can be requisitely organized are those of organized crime or crime gangs. This seems to be the case in Russia, another low-trust society that lacks the other elements that stabilize France and China.

On the idea of the Modern Therapeutic Cult, which I have discussed in greater detail elsewhere, I propose that if we organized American businesses requisitely, and applied these principles to identifying high-potential young people, we could reduce the amount of depression and psychological problems. Jaques makes a similar argument, saying that we spend so much time in organizations that their dysfunction can be a cause of psychological problems. Remove the organizational dysfunction and, voilà, the person gets immediately better. Of course, the person may still have personal psychological issues that he or she may wish to deal with. But the point is to solve the structural problem rather than try to get the person to behave in a better way within the dysfunctional structure.

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

There must be some reason why Americans are so much more depressed than they were even during the Great Depression. Some have theorized that the excess of choices has created a paralysis of choosing. Others have theorized that it comes from “learned helplessness”; that is, we have been taught in late twentieth century America that we are helpless to change our situation. After being taught this for some time, we no longer try and avoid painful situations. My ancestors, coming from the mountains of West Virginia, would have simply called in their brothers and friends and burned down the painful situation’s cabin.

I hypothesize that our massively dysfunctional organizations have created learned helplessness. I learn that I am helpless whenever I work for a boss who is at my level or below, because anything that I do will result in failure, especially trying to work hard. The dysfunction of the organization creates a string of situations across my work life that teach me that I am helpless in changing my situation. If this be true, then simply changing the structure may not be enough to restore the hopefulness of the employees.

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Image credit: Dome of the Belgian royal greenhouses in Laeken (external). © E. Forrest Christian

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 7

  1. Fundamental to enhancing trust is the creation of an accountable organization or society. We have substitued so many rules and bureaucratic systems for basic accountability that it has made it a virtual impossibility to foster the very accountability these rules and bureaucracies set forth to acheive. Your example of the pedophile priest being improperly held to account for his actions creates the mistrust you present concern about within the Catholic Church. It won’t do that the church professes that the priest is not representative of the church itself and rather his own dysfunctional behaviour. Obviously there ought to have been a system in place which concerned itself with the possibility for the risk for exploitation. Similary, I suspect it leads to the myth that suggests as a result that “all priests are pedophiles”. It becomes increasingly more difficult today to distinguish accountability. Social systems in society are routinely abused, employees dependent upon mind altering drugs or alcohol (at least in parts of Canada) are deemed disabled and it becomes the employer’s responsibility to facilitate their rehabilitation, minority interest groups would have us promote candidates on the basis of their minority distinction as opposed to CIP, and some cry discrimination and harassment when their self-serving interests go unrealized. Unfortunately employers (as do many other facets of society) have become more and more concerned with potential liability and hassle and avoid, simply because it is easier to do so, the essential requirement of holding one accountable for his or her actions. I would argue that it isn’t the number of choices that compel us to paralysis but rather the magnitude of the task and the potential perceived risks associated therewith that permeate reluctance. Trust enhancing organizations are clear on expressing what it is they intend to do and then do what it is they have expressed as intention. Essential is their ability to hold the organization via the people who occupy it to account.

  2. In reading this article, it is not clear to me that Elliott’s use of the term ‘mutual trust’ has been conceptually separated from the much more common use (and beliefs) of trust as a quality of an inter-personal (even inter-group) relationship. To illustrate:
    1. Can I trust this person not to be reckless on my motorbike?
    As distinct from:
    2. When driving on the Melbournto Canberra road, can I trust that the strangers driving in the opposite direction will not cross the white line?

    The outcome of the first proposition is dependant on a range of influences, most of which will arise from my subjective judgement of the other person, my history with that person; importantly, the social setting or ‘context’ within which the relationship exists.

    The outcome of the second proposition is almost completely determined by the social setting (i.e the highway system) whithin which the relationship exists. And, we can see that in this case (for the most part) it is not necessary that we have a personal relationship with our counterpart on the other side of the road. Magically, we don’t need to make a judgement in order to ‘decide’ to trust.
    I was fortunate to have seriously missed the point about ‘mutual trust’ (i.e. the meaning and what it was to be connected to) in the months before Elliott died and I got into an email exchange with him on the subject. That exchange with him led me to see that, although I am now very clear about the ‘inducement of mutual trust’ being an imperative of social systems. I had to jump over the much more common usage of the term trust. This challenge plays itself out time and again in our work in organisations, and (with Elliott’s timely help) we can be much clearer about the work of leaders in developing their organisations (for mor junior leaders, their behaviour as part of organisations) to induce mutual trust.
    I apologise to the writer of the article if these notes are unnecessary.

  3. Post

    Great point. I missed out on meeting Jaques — he was dead almost six months before I ever heard of him. As a newcomer to his material, I appreciate the clarification.

    It’s been awhile since I wrote this; let me see what I can remember.

    I can see how we need to make clear the differences between the various types of trust. I would suggest that the concepts of “mutual trust” and personal trust are more related than not. Somehow, they seem to feed each other. If I work in a system that is non-trust building (what I understand from you as “mutual trust” in Jaques), then I am less likely to trust others with whom I have weak ties.

    Of course, some of Fukuyama’s low social capital societies still have a strong sense of personal trust, but only with families. This is true of China and southern Italy. This trust doesn’t get generalized as it has in Japan and America, where trust of others within the social system is normally taken for granted.

    This mutual trust creates social capital. I don’t have to personally know you in order to be able to have a work relationship with you. I can give you the keys to my car and let you park it (if you are a valet) because there is a basic level of trust built into our society.

    Societies that are not trustful are not able to create bureaucracies. Which means that Jaques’s point about work environments that build trustful social capital may be more important than I at first thought. If a society needs trustful social capital in order to build bureaucracies, it needs a replacement source of social capital as they develop, since the bureaucratic society eliminate the original sources. If the bureaucracies created through social capital (mutual trust) then create distrust, we’re in a sorry situation.

    I’m still wondering about how much of trust is not this shared socially created phenomenom. I trust certain people without them having to prove their trustworthiness because we share a common ethical system. If we do not share a common ethic, we have to discover whether or not the other is trustworthy. Which just takes too much time. I’d rather trust the social system.

    I have no idea where I’m going with this, except that I think that social trust and personal trust, while separate, feed each other in trustful societies (per Fukuyama).

    Good point on the difference, which I tend to distort needlessly. And you can never offend the writer, unless you’re d0g0wa5.

  4. I find the assertion that there are two distinct categories of trust, one at a personal level and one at a social level a bit preposterous. The notion of trust only occurs at a personal level. Arguably, whether the discussion is one of an interpersonal relationship or the influence of a societal system (such as the traffic network provided in the example) the trust is built from an understanding and confidence that people will behave in a consistent and predictable manner honouring the commitment affirmed by the standard described by the system or the personal agreement made within the interpersonal relationship.

    We might consider that in either case as individuals what is being manifested is an essential need, originating from the hierarchy of needs defined by Maslow, that is attempting to be satisfied. Unless one can distinguish the satisfaction of one or more essential needs in association with either the interpersonal relationship or the societal system, with a full appreciation of the potential benefits and consequences there is no compelling purpose in engaging in either the interpersonal relationship or conformance to the social system. In either case the need being distinguished and satisfied is a mutually benefical one where there is more than one party involved. Our experiences, both positive and negative, influence or ability, or reluctance, to trust either the individual or the societal system. For example a spouse who has experienced marital infidelity is apt to be more concerned about the ability to trust within the interpersonal relationship. Similarly, an individual who has experienced a serious collision because someone did not adhere to the traffic rules is going to be less trusting of this social system.

    The trust is only established or restored following the negative experience because the need remains and the individual is committed to having it satisfied. In either case the individual adjusts based on personal experience and behaves differently either within subsequent interpersonal relationships or the social systems referred to until the relationship, or the system changes.

    While it is acknowledged that in one case a personal understanding is necessary and in the other that personal knowledge of the individual operating within the societal system is not essential we need to distinguish that a judgement is in fact made. In the first instance the judgement is “Can I trust this person?” and in the second it is “Can I trust this person and all the others like this one, will behave in accord with the standards defined by the system that I am behaving in accord with?” Thus we do in fact make a judgement. The judgement made is one which is fixed on our trust in the system and its ability to influence the occupants to behave in a predictable and consistent manner. We may not albeit make this judgement each and every time we pull onto the road however we do make it periodically and typically at any occasion where we can identify with some significant negative risk that we understand exists because something compelling has occurred.

    While it is agreed that one need not require a personal affinity for every individual occupying the societal system (including work organizations) one does require a personal (and singular) level of trust in the individuals occupying the system because the system itself requires it.

  5. Re APFG:
    It would indeed be preposterous for me to assert two distinct categories of trust. That is not what I intended. Since you found it so, perhaps others did/will. To clarify:

    In our long experience as managers and,later, as consultants, we find that when discussing the desired or requsite relationship between the employee and the employer (primarily through the relationship with the immediate manager, ‘trust’ is one of the first words used.

    e.g. a critical element of organisation effectiveness is to have each employee (managers beining employees as well) experience a ‘two-way, trusting, productive, working relationship’ with their employee.

    This seemed simple enough as a starting proposition. How to achieve that in the design of the total system then becomes the question that we then want to follow.

    However, we have realised that the word ‘trust’ has common meanings and uses that, without further explanation, deflected attention towards a range of personal experiences and personal behaviours that were seen to be conditions for a person deciding to trust. It may be that people perceive that the conditions for trusting are to be found in the behaviour of other individuals – rather than being aware that they might be responding to a system…..? There was, it seemed, an unhelpful degree of glibness in the use of the word. Trust appeared as a cliche without transmitting the true imperative for organisation/system design and the manager’s behaviour as part of that design.

    Having started a discussion about trust in our workshops – thinking that there would be straightforward acceptance – we experienced energetic debate as people sought to align the idea of trust in their working relationship (with the company) with their personal experience and expectations of trust – usually citing their broader life experience. It became clear that simply talking about trust in a ‘trusting’ working relationship was misleading. Our context and purpose for talking about trust neede to be clearer.

    Elliott’s point with respect to ‘mutual trust’ was this:

    In building and managing human systems (e.g. organisations to do work), managers, as designers of the system, its sub-systems, policies, procedures etc and in the way that they behave as part of the system, must act in a way that induces mutual trust. Thus the use of the highway system to illustrate the point.

    It is interesting to ask workshop participants if they trust their manager. Getting the inevitable “No” vote, you can then point out that there are circumstances in which you do trust your manager without knowing it; that is when you meet him driving in the opposite direction on the highway. This helps draw attention to a critical point of RO: As managers, we are not here to deal with individual psychopathology. We are here to set the right system conditions to induce mutual trust; the conditions in which we are confident that we will not harm each other.

    A practical outcome of leaving trust open to what I think may be an inter-personal, non-system quality is that, urged to build trust, a manager may well equate this with needing to win a positive response from the direct report. Whereas, Elliott’s view of system-induced mutal trust is not predicated on the manager winning popularity (to be a little extreme, ‘though this is a common enough outcome. He clearly allowed for mutual trust to prevail through the hard as well as the easy manager decisions.

    As with many of the seemingly simple ideas put foward by Elliott, the idea of mutual trust and the part it plays in building a requisite organization challenge the way we use words and exposes our avid interest as we start to try to make our own sense of it. It is the issue of context, purpose and clarity that I want to draw attention to.

  6. Barry,
    The last entry clearly articulates your depth of understanding, and the clarification you have provided is spot on. Critically important is the assertion that managers have no particular authority, nor relevant qualifications, to resolve individual psychopathology and their charge is to provide a functional managerial system. You stop short of declaring, and it ought to be obvious given the subject matter, that RO offers the managerial system that provides for this. As a result it may be beneficial to ask the subordinate whether he or she trusts the manager for the purpose of establishing a diagnosis, however there will be far more value in simply putting the system in place and using it than spending an inordinate amount of time attempting to present the underlying theory to those on the shop floor.

    We need to consider that until one can rationalize with the benefit of parallel processing it is difficult to understand the relationship between the system and its ability to support or detract from the trust enhancing environment that is essential. It is not surprising recognizing this that individuals whose CIP is stratum I or II personalize the trust issue between themself and their immediate manager, rarely if ever pointing at the system. The ability to diagnose the systems and their effect on the employees of the organization obviously occurs at a level much higher than this.

    Interesting enough, where the system is not providing the required trust, stratum II managers (and their shift supervisors) will very much attempt to build personal favour with their subordinates with full recognition that trust is essential, (or they will set up the battle lines and will view the employee as the problem and not the system.) As a result they will encourage all kinds of dysfuntional behaviours, such as knocking off early and other rewards simply because the system fails to provide this essential foundation.

    As indicated I offer no disagreement with the clarification provided in the last response. In fact it is probably the best summary I have seen distinguishing the merit associated with creating a trust enhancing environment through a functional managerial system.

  7. Post

    I just wanted to point out that the trust is different, really. In one, we’re trusting in the social system to perform; while in the other we trust in that person to perform. I think that we conflate trust in the social system and trust in a person together, because the same individual is involved.

    I’m pretty intrigued by the entire discussion, including Fukuyama and Co.’s contributions.

    That Jaques and Co. argue that the social system can induce trust, I get. I’m wondering how much the actual interaction between this mutual trust and what is often perceived as personal pathology. Michelle Malay Carter’s article on the attitude problems at work describes how having employees working in a role that is lower than their capabilities results in what seems like personal pathologies. I wonder how much of what is currently treated by psychologists today wouldn’t disappear under an RO environment.

    I’m guessing that the affects of the trust work both ways. Under RO, I not only trust my boss but my boss trusts me, too. Experiencing trust is a building experience. (I forget the research on it: I’ll look it up later when I tackle Trust again). Likewise, being under a position of non-trust has to be deleterious. Creating a trustful social system creates social capital. Take the situation of creating security after you defeat and occupy another country: if you don’t get the streets safe quickly, you can restore water and electruicity all you want and you won’t get a helpful populace. Probably the only thing that can be said of totalitarian states (who exist with the cooperation of the populace in some way) is that they keep the streets safe even while destroying your faith in your fellow citizens. So you then put more trust in the government.

    I think that the trust issues, not restricted to Jaques’s ideas in the MAH, are just too interesting. It’s like discovering that the MAH is an emergent quality of human groups.

    I’m interested in issues of trust and trustfulness.

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