Coordinating Neglect - COORDINATION NEGLECT: HOW LAY...

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COORDINATION NEGLECT: HOW LAYTHEORIES OF ORGANIZINGCOMPLICATE COORDINATION INORGANIZATIONSChip Heath and Nancy StaudenmayerABSTRACTWe argue that organizations often fail to organize effectively becauseindividuals have lay theories about organizing that lead tocoordinationneglect. We unpack the notion of coordination neglect and describespecific cognitive phenomena that underlie it. To solve the coordinationproblem, organizations must divide a task and then integrate thecomponents. Individuals display shortcomings that may create problemsat both stages. First, lay theories often focus more on division of laborthan on integration. We discuss evidence that individuals displaypartitionfocus(i.e. they focus on partitioning the task more than on integration)andcomponent focus(i.e. they tend to focus on single components of atightly interrelated set of capabilities, particularly by investing to createhighly specialized components). Second, when individuals attempt tointegrate components of a task, they often fail to use a key mechanism forintegration: ongoing communication. Individuals exhibitinadequatecommunicationbecause the ‘curse of knowledge’ makes it difficult to takethe perspective of another and communicate effectively. More importantly,because specialists find it especially difficult to communicate withspecialists in other areas, the general problem of communication willoften be compounded by insufficient translation.Research in Organizational Behaviour, Volume 22, pages 153–191.2000 by Elsevier Science Inc.ISBN: 0–7623–0641–6153
THE IMPORTANCE OF COORDINATIONHighly motivated individuals often fail in their attempts at organizing. AtXerox during the 1970s, top managers feared that Xerox might falter whenbusiness transactions shifted from paper to electronic forms. They were savvyenough to create the group of researchers that invented the first desktop PCs(complete with mouse graphical interface) and easy means of networking them(complete with networked laser printers and e-mail). Then top managers failedcontinually to organize a structure that could bring the new technologies to themarketplace (Smith & Alexander, 1988). Why? Software developers who areurgently trying to finish a major piece of software frequently organizethemselves in ways that actually slow themselves down (Brooks, 1979;DeMarco, 1995). Top managers at the best firms of the era systematicallycomplicated their own jobs by diversifying into other lines of businesses, thenfloundered when they tried to design organizational structures to repair thecomplications they created (Chandler, 1962). Front-line workers who areearnestly trying to communicate with each other choose methods ofcommunication that make it even more difficult to organize their efforts(Dougherty, 1992; Bechky, 1999). Even when motivations far exceed thetypical range of motivations available in a business setting, highly motivatedindividuals still fail to organize effectively. During World War II the American

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Term
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Business, Organizational studies, Personal computer, Chip Heath, coordination neglect, NANCY STAUDENMAYER

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