Organisations are relational systems. They are networks of interconnected relationships and conversations.
The statement above is based on systemic constructionist view on organisations existing in communication. As a practitioner in the field of organisation development (OD) it’s very important and at the same time challenging to find ways to support the development of the relational world of organisations. The wholeness and connectedness of things is strongly emphasized.
One of the relational theories I’ve been studying recently is the Relational Dialectics Theory by Baxter and Montgomery (1996). The theory is based on bakhtinian view on dialogue and dialectics - that our social worlds are created in dialogue and they are dialectic in their nature. Therefore our meaning making is constructed in the interrelationship of dialectic and sometimes even competetive discourses. (Baxter & Braitwaithe 2008.)
The theory draws our attention to the word discourse, the system of meanings. Whenever we communicate we awake several systems of meanings at the same time. That’s why it’s important to see the connections between different parts. For example a single conversation includes both the discursive history and the future of relational, organisational and cultural contexts. I want to take this idea even further: if we see organisations created, maintained and changed in conversations, then from the organisational point of view every conversation should be seen as a strategic choice – a conscious choice within the moment that is related to the past, present and future of the whole organisation.
Becoming conscious about the patterns, meanings and actions in a relational system can lead to more effective organisational development. Christine Oliver (2005, 3) talks about practicing reflexivity, which means that:
”we make choices about how we think and act. We become responsible and accountable for our choices, and our contributions to a relational system.”
For a consultant this brings an interesting question: what kind of development am I making possible through my intervention?” (Oliver 2005).
Baxter, L.A. & Braithwaite, D.O. 2008. Relational Dialectics Theory. Crafting Meaning from Competing Discourses in L.A. Baxter & D.O. Braithwaite (ed.) Engaging Theories in Interpersonal Communication: Multiple Perspectives. Los Angeles: Sage. 349-361.
Baxter, L. A. & Montgomery, B. 1996. Relating. Dialogues and dialectics. New York: Guilford.
Oliver, C. 2005. Reflexive inquiry. A Framework for Consultancy Practice. London: Karnac.