A relational view to management

by eskokilpi

Gregory Bateson argued that humankind’s fall from grace began through separations such as separating the self from the other, separating thought from emotion, separating the sacred from the secular and separating the subject from the object.

Today, there is new thinking that is based on the very latest findings in the sciences of complexity and sociology. These new approaches define a participative, relational perspective: we should speak about subjects interacting with others in the co-evolution of a jointly constructed reality.

In mainstream thinking, managers are understood as the prime originators of what happens in their businesses. The central concern is how the manager/subject gets the follower/object to act in ways that reflect the manager’s perspective. Management continues to see relationships in terms of influence and manipulation. The manager’s perspective is taken for granted in terms of what the facts are, and what is true or false. Employees are treated as instruments. They are less active and less knowledgeable although they can be sources of information for the manager.

In identifying management with science, two concepts were imported, which we now take so much for granted that we hardly notice them. There is the assumption of the autonomous, rational individual which corresponds with the atomistic view of society and the objectification of nature. The second concept that is imported into management is that of the objective observer who identifies causality and tests hypotheses like visions and goals based on these identifications. The objective observer is detached from the phenomena being studied. When this idea is imported into theories of organization, the manager is the objective observer who is supposed to act upon rationally formulated hypotheses about organizational success.

These assumptions have created the still prevailing subject-object understanding of organizational relationships. When a person is understood as a knowing individual she is being viewed as a subject, distinct from others, the objects. Relations are considered from the point of view of the subject and are instrumental in nature.

The social business/relational perspective to management views life and knowing from a different point of view: knowledge is socially constructed. Knowledge is not stuff accumulated and stored by individuals. Contextual interpretation takes the place of the objective fact. When knowledge and truth are viewed as social and temporary then constructions of what we call understanding or knowledge are always a part of what is going on.

Whether the social process is called leadership, management, networking, or communication, knowing is an ongoing process of relating. Social media best produce connectedness and interdependence as processes that construct collective authority and responsibility. Social media are most meaningful when giving voice to multiple perspectives, making it possible to seek out, recognize and respect differences as different but equal. Accordingly, reality in science is no longer viewed as a singular fact of nature but as multiple and socially constructed as David Weinberger writes in his newest book: “Too Big to Know”.

In a relational model identity is constructed from being in relationships, being connected, as contrasted with the mainstream view of identity through separation. Knowledge of self and the other thus becomes viewed as co-constructed.

The relational view sees networking and social media as conversational processes of meaning making. Here, people who network may be regarded as seeking to understand the meanings of the others’ contributions. To do so, they would have to give up the assumption that they and others necessarily mean the same thing by the same terms or expressions. A manager, when networking, would be asking questions that invite others to make explicit what is usually left tacit. In the end it is a process of movement of thought on the basis of multiple perspectives.

For Bateson and many others, re-engagement is essential for recovering wisdom and long-term vitality. This requires re-connecting with participative ways of knowing, with others as part of the self.


Thank you Gregory Bateson, Doug Griffin, Ralph Stacey, Kenneth Gergen, David Weinberger and Katri Saarikivi