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Confiance, coopération et partenariat : un processus de transformation dans l'entreprise québécoise

Confiance, coopération et partenariat : un processus de transformation dans l'entreprise québécoise

Denis Harrisson et Normand Laplante

Volume : 49-4 (1994)

Abstract

Attempts to reorganize work which are introduced unilaterally and controlled by management do not achieve the expected results. These negative experiences more than often perpetuate mistrust and reinforce workers' insecurity, particularly in a context of economic difficulty and job reduction. The absence of reciprocity is an obstacle to the transition to a more harmonious relationship, which is fundamental to the development of co-operation between the actors.

The reorganization of production in some firms, however, gives way to new social relations based on trust between the main actors: managers and union representatives. These firms are more characterized by open communication and mutual trust than by formal rules. These organizational innovations typically aim for both greater functional flexibility and workers support for the firm's production goals. These changes are made possible by the interaction of those present in the firm based on a consensus in decision-making. The required co-operation is built on reciprocity and mutual trust, not on coercion and external constraints. The transformation of the relationship is based on frequent face-to-face contacts. A new System of relations, initially not defined, is built by the representatives in a partnership where trust is first established between people. The context in which new forms of social relations are formed links the agents in a state of dependence, uncertainty and risk.

This formation of new types of interaction during a process of work reorganization was observed over an eighteen-month period in four manufacturing establishments whose unions are affiliated to the Confédération des syndicats nationaux. In the context of organizational innovations, we were able to observe, at local level, a transformation in the relationship between management and the union. Two of these establishments were faced with economic difficulty. Their changes aimed to optimize existing work rules. In the two other establishments, the changes in work relations took place within the context of strategic planning and set about deeper transformations in work organization.

In all cases, the changes were guided by a steering committee consisting of union representatives and managers. Co-operation entalled mutual trust between people who held distinct social positions within the establishment. Decisions were made by consensus. The presence of these credible people was essential, but insufficient. Trust was gained in a typical process of trustworthiness observed in all four establishments. It was built on dispute settlements, problem solving related to working conditions, the regularity of contact between the actors and the quality of information exchanged. When trust was established between union representatives and local management, the establishment was run jointly under a form of partnership, but within the limits of each party's respective role.

This type of trust stems from the changing conditions of an abstract System. It expands in a firm experiencing restructuring and characterized by uncertainty and risk. Trust solves tensions while the actors search for consensus through value sharing and joint decisions. Trust between the participants remains fragile and is subject to demands that are beyond the scope of their action. They are attempting to create another System from routine interactions but whose definitive forms still remain unclear.