How to Do More with Less: The Power of Relational Coordination

November 30, 2015

By: Rachael Moreton

It is no secret that it is certainly a challenging time to be leading an organization. Leaders are faced with pressure to achieve better outcomes with fewer resources. In other words, they are expected to do more with less. Sound familiar? In her Positive Links Speaker Series session, Jody Hoffer Gittell proposes that we can use relational coordination to begin tackling this seemingly impossible feat. In this hour-long session, we learn how and why we should invest in the relationships among and between groups of people within an organization.

Gittell introduces her idea of relational coordination with a comparison of American and Southwest Airlines. Relational coordination can be defined as a “mutually reinforcing process of communicating and relating for the purpose of task integration.” As she describes interviews with employees from both companies, we begin to learn how this process contributes to the overall flight departure performance. Like nearly every task in the business world, flight departure is a highly interdependent task. Using direct quotations from employees, Gittell demonstrates how the relationships of shared goals, shared knowledge, and mutual respect supported by frequent, timely, accurate and problem-solving communication allows employees to achieve highly interdependent tasks. Additionally, Gittell illustrates how she measures relational coordination to determine its effects on performance. When measured as a set of networks, she illustrates that there is a strong correlation between relational coordination and an index of performance outcomes.

In both her qualitative and quantitative findings, Gittell demonstrates that relational coordination strengthens both operational capacity and adaptive capacity. That is, relational coordination positively impacts efficiency and financial outcomes, quality and safety outcomes, client engagement, worker engagement, and learning and innovation.

Though critics may argue the benefits of relational coordination are unique to the organizations Gittell explored, she assures her audience that it is a “fundamental organizational dynamic” that can be applied to various sectors. She explains how having more coordinated relationships among employees can improve performance in two ways: it creates an organizational culture that supports process improvement and it helps co-workers see how they are connected around the clients.

So, where should an organization begin if they want to achieve relational coordination? Gittell emphasizes to her audience relational coordination requires a high level of attentiveness. While changing organizational structures can certainly support or weaken relational coordination, she reveals that changing these structures is not enough. She says that organizations must also change relational patterns directly.

In the remainder of the session, Gittell tells three stories about how organizations are implementing organizational and cultural changes to achieve relational coordination. She demonstrates how investing in the soft areas of business can lead to improvements in the harder dimensions, ultimately allowing organizations to do more with less.

Watch Jody Hoffer Gittell’s Positive Links Speaker Series session here to learn even more about relational coordination. I invite you to begin to think about how it works within your organization today.

For more about the author: Rachael Moreton, +LAB Fellow