This article addresses the relational dynamics of interorganizational relationships where multiple legally independent organizations work on a joint goal, for example in public–private partnerships, alliances, or joint ventures. It focuses on the dynamics of groups that consist of members representing different organizations and thus different interests, who come together to work on the multiparty task. The relational dynamics are understood from a so-called systems-psychodynamic perspective, which aims to understand the emotional life of social systems in context. The article first will depict the relational challenges of working across organizational boundaries. It then will briefly sketch how social psychology (the domain par excellence for studying intergroup relations and group dynamics) helps fathom the relational challenges and where its insights are incomplete. Then, a systems-psychodynamic perspective is introduced. The article proceeds with describing an action research approach that is sensitive to the emotional underpinnings of interorganizational relationships, by providing two illustrations: one involving a real-life infrastructural project, the other concerning a complex behavioral simulation of interorganizational dynamics. The article ends with some reflections on the use of a systems-psychodynamic perspective in understanding and working with multiparty dynamics.
David E. Guest
The sociotechnical approach, developed by psychologists at the Tavistock Institute of Human Relations in the 1950s, proposes that the design of work should seek to optimize both the social and the technical systems within organizations, offering a counter to ideas of technological determinism. It further suggests that organizations should be viewed as open systems, subject to sometimes unpredictable external and internal influences leading to a need for adaptability. The work group is viewed as the most relevant unit of analysis resulting in advocacy of autonomous work groups offering group members high levels of control over their work. Workers should participate in the design of their work and receive training and support to enable their involvement. This influential concept stimulated a large body of research in many countries. Despite some notable positive examples, outcomes were often mixed, reflecting the challenges of managing and sustaining significant change. The concept of joint optimization has also proved problematic, with psychologists tending to focus on the social system, while engineers give greater emphasis to the technical system. The advent of digital technologies is providing a new impetus to the need to design work to optimize both the social and technical systems, provoking renewed interest in the approach.