Power in groups: Coalitions


Those “out of power� and seeking to be “in� will first try to increase their power individually. Why share the spoils if one doesn’t have to? But if this proves ineffective, the alternative is to form a coalition an informal group bound together by the active pursuit of a single issue. The logic of a coalition is that there’s strength in numbers.

The natural way to gain influence is to become a power holder. Therefore, those who want power will attempt to build a personal power base. But, in many instances, this may be difficult, risky, costly or impossible. In such cases, efforts will be made to form a coalition of two or more “outs� who, by joining together, can combine their resources to increases rewards for themselves. Successful coalitions have been found to contain fluid membership and are able to form swiftly, achieve their target issue, and quickly disappear.

What predictions can we make about coalition formation? First, coalitions in organizations often seek to maximize their size. In political science theory, coalitions move the other way they try to minimize their size. They tend to be just large enough to exert the power necessary to achieve their objectives. But legislatures are different from organizations. Specifically, decision making in organizations does not end just with selection from among a set of alternatives. The decision must also be implemented. In organizations, the implementation of and commitment to the decision is at least as important as the decision itself.

It’s necessary, therefore for coalitions in organizations to seek a broad constituency to support the coalition’s objective. This means expanding the coalition to encompass as many interests as possible.

Another prediction about coalitions relates to the degree of inter-dependence within the organization. More coalitions will likely be created when there is a great deal of task and resources interdependence. In contrast, there will be less interdependence among subunits and less coalition formation activity when subunits are largely self-contained or resources are abundant.

Finally, coalition formation will be influenced by the actual tasks that workers do. The more routine is the task of a group the greater the likelihood of formation of coalition. The more the work that people do is routine, the greater their substitutability for each other and, thus, the greater their dependence. To offset this dependence, they can be expected to resort to a coalition.

The above helps us to conclude and explain the historical appeal of labor unions, especially among low-skilled workers. Such employees are better able to negotiate improved wages, benefits, and working conditions as a united coalition than if they acted individually. A one-person “strike� has little power over management. However, if a firm’s entire workforce goes on strike, management has a serious problem.

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