Coalition Building

AuthorBoyd Childress, Wendy Mason

Page 82

Coalitions refer to the temporary formation of persons, groups, or even nations for some type of joint or common action. It has been used as a term most often in relation to political or national issues, such as President George H. W. Bush's allied coalition during the Gulf War. In business, coalitions have been present for many years as a means of bringing together people, departments within an organization, entire companies, or industries with some common purpose. Examples of such purposes might include; achieving a common corporate goal, lowering insurance rates, regulating an industry action, or strategic planning. Coalitions are an exercise in power, whether in politics or business.


The concept of coalition building has too often been confused with interest groups and lobbying. The term refers to the formation of different interests, but not necessarily with the same intent as an interest group. From the French coalascere, the word is generally defined in political terms. Most early coalitions were temporary alliances formed among nontraditional allies to combat a common foe. Bush's Gulf coalition is one such example, and an example of a coalition that did not hold together even over a short span of time. Coalitions are also formed for election purposes. A historical example of this is the Republican Party, formed in the mid-nineteenth century from representatives from virtually all parties then existing on the American political scene—Whigs, Democrats, Free-Soilers, Abolitionists, Know-Nothings, members of the temperance movement, and others without a party allegiance. All of these elements did not survive the formation of the Republican Party as we know it today.


There are various definitions of a coalition that fit an organizational behavior setting. One simply states that a coalition occurs when members of a group organize to support their side of a particular issue. Another definition refers to a coalition as a relationship over a specific issue. Coalitions exist to preserve and even enhance self-interests, whether those of an individual or group, and achieve an adequate balance of power favorable to the coalition members's advantage. A more complete definition is a group formed to pursue a strategy that will be to the advantage of those most directly affected.

Another example of a coalition is one that forms over the issue of funding for management information systems within a single organization. Individuals express initial concern about a lack of resources to fully develop an integrated information system, yet have no formal way to share concerns with management. These individuals represent several units within the organization, including accounting, research, marketing, and distribution—few of whom commonly interact with the others. The issue focuses on management's budget control. But, as a group, membership serves on the overall organizational budget planning committee. At the point of decision making, the coalition acts in accord with common interests to recommend a comprehensive information system mutual to the needs of all units. Once this recommendation is forwarded to the organization's executive, the coalition disbands or continues, depending on the final decision on how the resources are to be used for information management.

Whatever definition of coalitions is accepted, understanding organizational coalitions helps to understand behavior in a complex organizational structures. Coalitions are a potent force in organizations. Organizational behavior literature is largely independent of the social psychology literature on...

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