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Adaptive Structuration Theory

Organizations and groups are a central part of our lives. Consider the number of groups and organizations to which you currently belong. It has been estimated that those employed in organizations may spend as much as 85 percent of their time in groups or team meetings. Adaptive Structuration Theory is useful in providing an understanding of how the structures that are created in groups influence communication and decisions. Further, it is useful in examining the role that power plays in the development of groups and in the accomplishment of their goals. Scholars who have studied structuration in groups and organizations have emphasized the importance of understanding the relationship between the inputs into groups (resources and rules) and the outputs (feedback). However, it is important not only to understand the existence of resources but also to examine how these resources evolve and change as a result of the communication activity that takes place within the group in making decisions.

Adaptive Structuration Theory can be applied to virtually all social settings and virtually all communication interactions. The areas of communication that have applied the theory with the most success are organizational communication and group decision making. A vast amount of research has examined structuration's impact on the atmosphere of an organization (e.g., Scott, Corman, & Cheney, 1998; Sherblom, Keranen, & Withers, 2002; Kirby & Krone, 2002) and its effects on small groups (Seyfarth, 2000). The theory, therefore, has heuristic value. The Research Note features an analysis of group decision making as viewed through the lens of Adaptive Structuration Theory.

Stephen Banks and Patricia Riley (1993) point out that some communication scholars are frustrated by Adaptive Structuration Theory because it is difficult to read and understand; in addition, some claim that the theory lacks parsimony. Banks and Riley (1993) present many concepts as they examine the intricate process of how organizations and groups structure their communication and arrive at decisions. Their advice to those who are researching this theory in an attempt to understand organizations and groups is to "begin at the beginning" (p. 181). Thus, they recommend that we break down a group into its various parts in order to completely understand the dynamics that influence communication and decision making. This requires insight and understanding of the historical rules that are brought into the group by each of the members—an extremely difficult task to accomplish. Further, Banks and Riley suggest that scholars resist the temptation to apply preestablished categories in explaining how organizations and groups are developed and how they experience change. The reason for this suggestion lies in the evolutionary nature of the resources and rules that guide the organization, making the system unique.

The challenge for researchers is to continue their study on the dynamics of Adaptive Structuration Theory to describe its applicability in real-life situations. Although Adaptive Structuration Theory is intimidating due to the vast number of elements that must be considered in order to understand the group or organizational communication process, it is useful in exploring the complexities involved in the evolution of groups and organizations.

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