Gareth Morgan’s Organisational Metaphors
PERSPECTIVES ON ORGANISATIONS
Our interpretations of organisations are always based on some sort of theory to explain reality (Morgan). Many ideas about organisations and management are based on a small number of taken for granted beliefs and assumptions.
Organisations are complex and can be understood in terms of several perspectives. People who are inflexible only see organisations in terms of one of these metaphors, but people who are open and flexible and suspend judgement are able to recognise several perspectives, which open up several rather than only a single possibility for dealing with organisations and their problems. We live in a world that is increasingly complex and deal with complexity by ignoring it. Morgan identifies nine organisational perspectives.
1. The machine view which dominates modern management thinking and which is typical of bureaucracies.
2. The organismic view which emphasises growth, adaptation and environmental relations. 3. Organisations as information processors that can learn (brain metaphor). 4. Organisations as cultures based on values, norms, beliefs, rituals and so on. 5. In political organisations interests, conflict and power issues predominate. 6. Some organisations are psychic prisons in which people are trapped by their mindsets. 7. Organisations can adapt and change, and
8. Some organisations are instruments of domination with the emphasis on exploitation and imposing your will on others.
Machines and machine thinking dominates the modern world. People are expected to operate like clockwork by working to certain procedures, rest according to certain rules and repeat that in a mechanical way. Organisations are machines in which people are parts. Machine organisations are tools to achieve the ends of those who own them. Organisations have to adapt to the technology they use and after the Industrial revolution people lost their work autonomy to become specialists in controlling machines.
Machine organisations are modelled on the military from which it borrowed ranks and uniforms, standardised regulations, task specialisation, standardised equipment, systematic training, and command language. Bureaucracies produce routine administration in the same way as machines in factories.
Machine managers are taught that you can plan for and control organisations and divide organisations in functional departments with precisely defined jobs. Commands are given from the top and travel throughout the organisation in a precisely defined way to have a precisely defined effect. The thrust of classical management theory is that organisations are rational and can be optimised to become as efficient as possible.
Machine organisations work well if the task is simple, the environment stable, the task is repetitive, if precision is required, and if humans behave like machines. On the flipside, machine organisations adapt poorly to change, it fosters bureaucracy, it can have unanticipated unwanted consequences, and it is dehumanising.
These organisations are perceived to work like living organisms. Consequently, they are concerned with survival. Employees have complex needs that must be satisfied for them to function well. The Hawthorne studies identified social needs in the workplace and brought the motivation to work to the fore. The emphasis shifted towards making work more meaningful and getting people more involved in their jobs.
Since organisations are open to the environment, they should be organised to fit their task environments, rather than according to a boilerplate. Such organisations are better able to respond to change in the environment. This lead to models such as adhocracies, project orientated companies, matrix organisations, and so on.
Some researchers emphasise the importance of the environment as a force in organisational survival. According to the population ecology view,...
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