Role Conflict and Multiple Authority in Complex Organizations

by Robert House



Two classical principles of organization deal specifically with authority flow: chain of command and unity of command and direction. These principles are not new to modern organizations, or even to modern-day civilizations, but they have been explicitly subjected to empirical testing in only a few situations. There are many situations where violating the principles sometimes results in undesirable consequences, and sometimes it does not. According to the chain-of-command principle, organizations set up on the basis of hierarchical relationships, with a clear and single flow of authority from top to bottom, should be more satisfying to members and should result in more effective economic performance and goal achievement than organizations set up without assurance of an authority flow. A single chain of command is desirable because multiple chains necessarily involve multiple sources of authority, thus violating the principle of unity of command. Under conditions of multiple accountability, there is the possibility that conflicting directions will be imposed; there is also the opportunity for the subordinate to allocate his time and energy according to his own preferences, rather than according to the demands of the situation or the directions of his superiors.

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