VI. Implications of Co-Power Theory to Organizational Change and Development (ODC) The co-power concept's expanded view of power transcends the empowerment-disempowerment debate, and in the process calls into question corporate governance as well as corporate charter issues. The implication here is that organization change professionals need an understanding of the democratic nature and governance of corporations and industries as a necessary component of any organizational actions aimed at so-called empowerment. To examine these implications, we first consider co-power as the resituating of the empowerment-disempowerment debate. Second, we look at co-power's problemetizing of corporate governance. Finally, we examine the relationship between the corporation's power and the community, as this relationship is expressed in corporate charters.

Co-power: Resituating the Debate First, we would like to elaborate a "co-power" perspective on empowerment and disempowerment that builds on the strengths we see in both Follett's and Clegg's work. We would like to define co-power as the co-relationship between the individual and the network of relations and systems that define the organization. This approach would integrate Follett's concern with the analysis of the situation with Clegg's concern with empowerment and disempowerment in the broader contexts of circuits of power. Our reading of co-power is that it is a non-zero sum game in which the agency of people in organizations is achieved within extended networks "by virtue of organization, whether of a human being's dispositional capacities or of a collective nature" (Clegg, 1989: 17). This hybrid perspective has important implications for organization development and change.

Co-power moves us beyond the duality in which managers delegate, share, or donate power to workers. Both Clegg and Follett reject such a construct. Instead, for Clegg power is a capacity, and it is embedded in the relational or facilitative, episodic, and dispositional relational circuits. For Follett, you grow your own power, but you need some democratic space to do so. The implication for ODC is to explore areas of empowerment and disempowerment that extend from innovations in production and discipline that impact passage points in the social networks. In Follett's, terms people are the agents of power, and they can work their own ways of organizing, under democratic conditions. External and internal environmental changes affect the influx of innovations, which redistribute power capacities in these circuits.

In consultation, fixed meanings come under inspection and new rules for playing the game get enacted in dispositional power circuits. OD is acutely sensitive to the ways in which organizational participants, through what Clegg calls the facilitative circuits of power, comply with or moderately resist change initiatives and programs of institutional reform. There are dynamics of systems that prompt and socialize people to behave in ways that one could only characterize as disempowering. For Clegg, empowerment and disempowerment are embedded in the interplay of the three circuits of power. For Follett, you grow your own power, but you need some democratic space to do so. In OD, the focus is to get people equipped with communication skills and processes that will help them discuss conflicts in open meetings, to be able to hear people with whom they differ, with an open ear. Clegg and Follett both point out that no amount of empowerment coaching or training at this level (Follett's interpersonal level or Clegg's episodic circuit level) will change the embedding dynamics. The implication for ODC is to explore both micro and macro areas of empowerment and disempowerment that extend from innovations in production and discipline.

Follett's writing is rich with examples of her process consulting. She was able to get management and labor, who were on the threshold of violence (and sometimes past it) to look jointly at their projections, to set aside blame and look at the situation of the organization. She was able to confront dualistic thinking, the "us-them" framing of relationships and seek more creative solutions. And she worked with the types of power circuits Clegg described, for example, working with managers and workers who sat on joint problem solving committees and learned to set aside their stereotypes of one another.

Getting out of the we-they mentality is more than just coaching some new communication skills, it means looking at the complexity of the social networks, history of blame and reprisal, and the opportunities for collaboration. Follett, more than Clegg, has a focus on finding zones of cooperative agreement, places where new ground can be won together. While Clegg's approach stresses concerted action and resistance, Follett favored workers' councils, including direct representation of workers on boards of directors and the training of workers in the financial affairs of the entire firm. Both their approaches address the OD challenge, which is not in consulting to the dyad, but in developing the organization.

As an organization becomes more addicted to crisis and distorted thinking, there is a proliferation of disciplinary mechanisms. More surveillance cameras, more rules, and personnel files thick with letters of reprimand and grievances. And these systems mushroom in ways that are expensive as well as disempowering. In disempowering organizations, HR training is not enough. The processes of empowerment and disempowerment are embedded in circuits of power. Following Clegg, OD consultants might open up opportunities for empowerment by dismantling these disciplinary mechanisms, where possible. If OD consultants adopted Follett's co-active view of power circularity as an antidote to disempowering dynamics, managers would be influenced as much as they seek to influence others, creating more spaces for empowerment.

Corporate Governance Second, a theory of co-power problematizes the nature of democratic governance of the firm. Follett's passion was to create cooperative forms of joint-democratic governance, which would be situations of co-power for management and labor. In ODC, cooperatives have rarely been studied as ways of implementing networks of power that move away from hierarchical governance.

Follett, however, favored workers' councils, including direct representation of workers on boards of directors and departments, and the training of workers in the financial affairs of the entire firm. The cooperative and guild movements also stressed worker-participation in the governance of the whole firm; employees were to become co-owners of production, not just design-participants. Empowerment through co-ownership is not the same as empowerment through participative approaches to work design that afford more team participation or worker-control over the pace and layout of work.

Charter Movement Besides problematizing the dualism of management versus labor, and the governance of the overall firm, Follett's co-power model raises a third issue. This is how communities are empowered and disempowered by corporate behavior. What is the accountability of corporations to the community? As we briefly mentioned above, Korten (1995) and others are provoking a grassroots movement to return control of corporate charters to local communities. We think this is also what the Emerys' (1993) jury system of cross-sectional stakeholder representation seeks to accomplish. Korten argues that the founding fathers of the U.S. constitution sought to control forms of corporate power such as in the East India Tea and Hudson Bay company that were not accountable to local community interests. Country-spanning corporations in this age of globalization need to become accountable for "spreading mass poverty, environmental devastation, and social disintegration weakening our capacity for constructive social and cultural innovation" (1995: 268). Korten contrasts these transnational firms with economic systems that are locally rooted and locally accountable for political, economic, and cultural spaces, in which people live and work.

A global system composed of localized economies can accomplish what a single globalized economy cannot-encourage the rich and flourishing diversity of robust local cultures and generate the variety of experience and learning that is essential to the enrichment of the whole (p. 269).

Resisting global transorganizational dominance and fostering the co-existence of multiple localizing economies, is very compatible with critical and postmodern perspectives.

Localized economies represent what Follett focused on in envisioning cooperative forms of interorganizational networks that could make both community and global perspectives a win/win situation. Rebuilding local economic communities, for Korten (1995), involves putting the corporate charter back in the control of the community. This would challenge corporations' status as an "individual" with rights that are inalienable and natural, and resituate the idea of "corporate charter" as serving and being accountable to public and ecological well being. The main implication here for ODC, is to reassess its commitment to corporations and to their locally situating communities. By "situating communities" we mean the communities where resources, both ecological and human, are extracted, and where more toxic resources are abandoned.

These three areas--moving beyond the empowerment-disempowerment duality, cooperative governance, and corporate charter--all expand the role of ODC consultant to include a co-power analysis of a corporation's situated and democratic relationship to social and ecological communities. Consideration of these three areas allows the ODC consultant to connect the individual and institutional understandings of power, domination, and emancipation.



Press Left Arrow to go Back or Right Arrow to see Conclusions.


This paper proceeds From Title/Abstract  through 7 steps: (1) briefly reviewing the current empowerment-disempowerment debate; (2) contextualizing Mary Parker Follett's work with a review of the democratic workplace movements of Marxist socialism, trade unionism, guilds, cooperatives, and non-union workers' councils; (3) discussing Follett's theory of co-active power circularity, with its roots in Hegel's and Dewey's philosophy; (4) summarizing Clegg's circuits of power theory; (5) combining Follett's power-as-capacity concept with Clegg's circuits of power in an assimilative reading we term "co-power," which can move us beyond today's empowerment-disempowerment duality; (6) drawing implications for organizational development and change practices regarding co-power as a way of linking micro and macro issues; and (7) offering conclusions regarding co-power as a way of increasing the effectiveness of organizational change efforts. (And References).