The Fundamental Interpersonal Relations Orientation (FIRO) of people

My last blog “Human needs as starting point for self-organisation” highlighted three needs of people relevant for the work context: autonomy, relatedness and competence. This blog entry is dedicated to the second of these basic needs, namely people’s desire for relatedness. I refer to the “Fundamental Interpersonal Relations Orientation (FIRO)” theory, which in the 1950s was introduced by American psychologist William C. Schutz with the ground-breaking book “FIRO: A three-dimensional theory of interpersonal behavior”.

The theory of Schutz explains the establishment and development of interpersonal relationships and can therefore be helpful for the design of self-organized projects. According to Schutz, the following three basic behaviours guide interpersonal relationships and the collaboration in the context of work: “inclusion”, “control” and “openness”. The first refers to including someone or being included in social contexts. The second means striving to control someone or being controlled by somebody and finally, openness means building relations with others or letting others to be close and personal with myself.

A few years later Schutz developed measuring instruments with six scales of nine-item questions, which became the Element B (“Behavior”). These instruments were created to measure how people experienced social interaction and to obtain feedback from people in a group setting. He stated that “the purpose of this work is to contribute to the development of more self-aware, open organizations and individuals with greater self-esteem. It is our desire that advancements in understanding the human element will at least match our advancements in technology. As we realize the tremendous power of truth, recognize our awesome capacity to determine our own lives, and overcome our fear of looking openly and honestly at ourselves, we can attain limitless heights of productivity and personal fulfilment in our organizations, our relationships, and ourselves.”

Based on the scientific results and feedback obtained in practice, Schutz and colleagues expanded the instruments for measuring more aspects of human interaction. Nowadays, there are 9 Elements of Awareness available: Element B: Behavior; Element F: Feelings; Element S: Self-Concept; Element J: Job Fit; Element E: Self-Esteem and Leadership-Version of Esteem; Element W: Work Relations; Element T: Openness (Truth); and Element O: Organizational Climate. In the Element F (“Feelings”) “Significance”, “Competence” and “Likeability” are measured, whereas in Element S (“Self-Concept”) it is analysed whether someone experiences “Aliveness/Self-Significance”, “Self-Determination/Self-Competence” and “Self-Awareness/Self-Like”. Element O (“Organizational Climate”) is an instrument intended to measure the Organizational Climate, which means the relation between each individual and the embedding organization or a (project) team.

The theory turned out to be helpful in understanding personal motivation and behaviour, resolving problems and improving relationships in teams as well as optimizing the organisational and cultural circumstances. Typically, it starts with the individual, increasing personal awareness. It continues with building skills for working together and creating organizational solutions and results and helps through consulting, training and coaching to create sustainable organizational transformations. William C. Schutz explained the potentials of his theory in these words: “At the heart of all human functioning is the self. The best solutions to organizational and leadership issues require self-awareness as an essential first step. Deeper self-awareness leads to self-acceptance and then self-esteem. As individuals gain self-awareness and self-esteem, they become more open and honest with their co-workers. They redirect the energy they now use for defensiveness, withholding, and other interpersonal struggles into productive work.”

What does the FIRO theory bring to project work in a self-organized, agile environment? As already explained in the blog post mentioned at the beginning of this article, it is important to better understand the individual needs of the participants. If these are taken into account, then it automatically increases the team performance. Coaching, training and consulting may in addition improve the relationship in the team environment, but also on an organizational level. The behaviour of the managers in the organisation and the prevailing corporate culture also have a major influence. How to achieve a radically better collaboration based on the FIRO theory will be the content of the next blog post.


Author: Reinhard Wagner, CEO of Tiba Managementberatung

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