Accueil » 41-2 ( 1986) » Problématique de la différenciation de la main-d'oeuvre et changement organisationnel

Problématique de la différenciation de la main-d'oeuvre et changement organisationnel

Michel Brossard et Marcel Simard


Les auteurs cherchent à approfondir l'analyse du problème de la différenciation interne aux travailleurs en situation de changement organisationnel.


This article is based on the analysis of different reactions observed among workers of a semi-autonomous work group, operating for eight years, particularly regarding key aspects of this organizational change. At the time of the empirical research, social relations among workers were conflictual and tense. In this paper, the authors develop an analytical framework for the study of this problem of internal social differentiation, which has generally not been investigated in the literature on semi-autonomous groups. According to this framework, it is hypothesized that this kind of social differentiation and conflict among workers members of the work group depends on factors related to the organizational context, the work organization and Personal characteristics of the workers. The empirical evidence shows that in the first years of the project, the autonomous work group had been creative and rather cohesive regarding key aspects of the experience, such as: job rotation, the decision-making process, the payment system and supervision. However, at the time of the empirical research (eight years after the beginning of this organizational change), the work group appeared divided and lacking in cohesiveness. In fact, three subgroups were identified within the work group, having very different attitudes towards such aspects as productivity, discipline and job rotation.

In this article, the authors describe these attitudes and try to explain why members of the work group evolved so differently. The three subgroups are a minority of leaders, another minority of restricters and, between them, the majority of the workers who had silently followed the leaders at the beginning but now hold a different view of the work groups future. While the leaders are pushing to attain higher group productivity and self-discipline, it appears that the restricters overtly opposed the leaders, criticizing almost every aspect of the new work organization, and trying to do the least possible work. The majority of the workers nevertheless, are satisfied with the present state of affairs and trying to stabilize and institutionalize the work group formula.

Within the analytical framework proposed, the authors explain the differences observed among workers by a set of factors. First of all, there are significant differences between subgroups concerning personal characteristics of their members, such as seniority and career expectations. Secondly, it appears that subgroups are influenced by some characteristics of the organizational context such as: the company's initial plan to extend the work group formula to other departments, the presence of a union, the rules of the collective contract and the established pattern for labour relations.

The authors conclude that the evolution of this autonomous work group is largely opposed to what could have been anticipated from a socio-technical point of view. Based on socio-technical approach, autonomous work groups are supposed to evolve towards more and more internal integration, unless external factors keep them from doing so. The present research shows that that has not been the case here.

The work group has evolved towards more and more internal differentiation and a reduced cohesiveness. Moreover, the empirical evidence shows the prominent influence of personal characteristics of the work group's members as the determinant factor in the explanation of such an evolution. In fact, this case study calls for a more strategic approach to the autonomous work group's dynamics.