Relational Coordination Research Collaborative

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The Relational Coordination Difference

1) RC theory identifies specific communication and relationships ties needed to drive coordination and performance.   These relationships include shared goals that transcend participants’ specific functional goals, shared knowledge that enables participants to see how their specific tasks interrelate with the whole process, and mutual respect that enables participants to overcome the status barriers that prevent them from seeing and taking account of the work of others. Together these three relational dimensions support communication that is frequent, timely, accurate and focused on problem-solving rather than blaming.

Relational coordination theory of performance

2) RC theory focuses on work relationships. These ties are conceptualized between work roles, rather than as personal ties, though we anticipate that personal relationships influence role relationships, and vice versa.

3) According to the theory, RC drives critical performance outcomes.  Relational coordination is carried out through direct contact among workers at the front-line, through networks that cut across functional silos at the point of contact with the customer. Relational coordination therefore improves performance of a work process by improving the work relationships between people (shared goals, shared knowledge, mutual respect) who perform different functions in that work process, leading to higher quality communication. Participants can manage their interdependencies more directly, in a more seamless way, with fewer redundancies, lapses, errors and delays.

4) According to the theory, RC also increases worker outcomes. The high quality relationships found in RC are inherently gratifying, making work more enjoyable and less stressful. In addition RC makes it possible to get work done more efficiently, with better quality results and with less wasted effort.

5) RC is particularly useful when work is highly interdependent, uncertain and time-constrained. When tasks are reciprocally interdependent, there are feedback loops among them, therefore increasing the need for relational coordination to enable participants to mutually adjust their actions in response to the outcomes of each others’ tasks. When uncertainty is high, RC becomes more important for enabling participants to adjust their activities with each other “on the fly” as new information emerges in the process of carrying out the work. Finally, as time constraints increase, as in high velocity environments, relational coordination becomes more important for enabling participants to adjust their actions rapidly in response to each other and newly emergent information, without wasting additional time referring problems upwards for resolution.

6)  Organizational structures support or undermine RC, depending on their design.  Relational coordination is strengthened by organizational structures that cut across functional silos – selecting and training for teamwork, shared accountability and rewards, shared conflict resolution, shared protocols, boundary spanners, shared meetings and huddles, and shared information systems. These cross-cutting structures require the redesign of traditional bureaucratic structures that keep people in their silos. 

7) RC can be measured using a validated measurement tool for diagnosis and organizational change.  The seven item survey measures communication and relationship networks across functional and organizational boundaries.  This tool captures coordination among workers (relational coordination), between workers and clients (relational coproduction), and between workers and leaders (relational leadership).

Relational Coordination Coproduction Leadership

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