Positive and Negative Aspects of Informal Structure
Is informal structure good or bad? Should it be controlled or encouraged? Two schools of thought have emerged with regard to these questions. One approach emphasizes control (or eradication) of informal groups; the other suggests that they should be nurtured. Traditional management theories are based on the assumption that people are basically lazy and motivated by greed. Consequently. informal groups must be controlled (or eliminated) in order to ensure greater worker productivity. By contrast. the other school of thought asserts that people are capable of cooperation. Thus, organizations should foster informal groups that permit people to work more efficiently toward organizational goals. Chester Barnard (1938), an early organizational theorist. focused on the functional aspects of informal groups. He suggested that organizations are cooperative systems in which informal groups "oil the wheels" by providing understanding and motivation for participants. In other words. informal networks serve as a means of communication and cohesion among individuals, as well as protect the integrity of the individual (Barnard, 1938; Perrow. 1986). The humnll relations approach, which is strongly influenced by Barnard's model, views informal networks as a type of adaptive behavior that workers engage in because they experience a lack of congruence between their own needs and the demands of the organization (Argyris. 1960). Organizations typically demand dependent. childlike behavior from their members and strive to thwart the members' ability to grow and achieve "maturity" (Argyris, 1962). At the same time, members have their own needs to grow and mature. Informal networks help workers fill this void. Large
organizations would be unable to function without strong informal norms and relations among participants (Blau and Meyer, 1987).
More-recent studies have confirmed the importance of informal networks in bureaucracies. Whereas some scholars have argued that women and people of color receive fairer treatment in larger bureaucracies than they do in smaller organizations. others have 'stressed that they may be categorically excluded from networks that are:important for survival and advancement in the organization (Kanter. 1993/1977; South et al., 1982; BerlOkraitisand Feagin. 1995; Feagin. 1991).
Informal networks thrive in contemporary organizations because e-rnail and websites have made it possible for people to communicate throughout the day without ever having to engage in face-to-face interaction. TIle need to meet at the water fountain or the copy machine in order to exchange information is long gone: Workers now have an opportunity to tell one another- and higher-ups, as well-what they think.