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Type: Journal Article
Author(s): Jody L. Jahn; Anne E. Black
Publication Date: 2017

Organizational hierarchy is an inescapable aspect of many exemplary high reliability organizations (HROs). As organizations begin to adopt HRO theorizing to improve practice, it is increasingly important to explain how HRO principles—which assume the hallmarks of a flat hierarchy—can be understood and enacted in rigidly stratified organizations. We propose a preliminary theoretical model suggesting how various supervisor–subordinate and work group communication patterns and practices enable members to navigate hierarchy to achieve high reliability. We test the model using structural equation modeling on a sample of N = 574 U.S. wildland firefighters from three federal agencies. Results suggest how organizational members might overcome common hierarchy-based constraints to HRO through considering how leaders throughout a chain of command communicate to cultivate the necessary cross-level awareness of an operation, and ways in which supervisors, members, and groups might cultivate interactional cultures with respectful affect.

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Citation: Jahn, Jody L. S.; Black, Anne E. 2017. A model of communicative and hierarchical foundations of high reliability organizing in wildland firefighting teams. Management Communication Quarterly 31(3):356-379.

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  • hierarchy
  • high reliability organization
  • wildland firefighters
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Record Maintained By: FRAMES Staff (
FRAMES Record Number: 25729