Class Session 1

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Class Session 1

January 26th: Organizations as Systems

Sharon, Auggy, Mike, Michele, Jess

Terms and Definitions

  • paradigm: simply, a pattern; in research,a philosophical and theoretical framework of a scientific school or discipline within which theories, laws, and generalizations and the experiments performed in support of them are formulated; broadly : a philosophical or theoretical framework of any kind (Merriam-Webster Online)
  • epistemology: the study or a theory of the nature and grounds of knowledge especially with reference to its limits and validity (Merriam-Webster Online)
  • ontology: a particular theory about the nature of being or the kinds of things that have existence (Merriam-Webster Online); also see this video from Rocketboom.

Summary of Class Discussions:
Comments on Bolman and Deal:

  • one student likes the idea of chunking problems and working on them one piece at a time.
  • the type of institution or character of a department informs the type of approach (of the four) to take
  • determining how to bridge departments with differing paradigms is important
  • knowing the frames helps us recognize them in practice or in the temperament of other people
  • at some point, a group composed of many frames has to come to a decision to move forward. How does the leader accomplish this?
  • communication is important- listening often ends up being the key
  • The book by John Kotter & Dan Cohen, The Heart of Change, addresses this by addressing the change process and change models
  • are managers any better today than they were when B&D cited the inadequacy of managers in 1994? Lifelong learning may be changing this.
  • Bolman & Deal have another book, The Wizard and the Warrior, on the under-use of political and symbolic frames
  • sometimes being able to identify the elephant in the room can only be done by those in a position of privilege; in other words, by those who cannot lose jobs, social capital, reputation, etc.
  • system change usually occurs only through use of power; however, sometimes the power lies outside of the formally recognized positions (e.g., someone doing a study can report on things that the provost or president cannot talk about)

Discussion of the case study- focus on where you think the frame orientation is, from what paradigm perspective, and supporting linking evidence.

  • Communication is important in regards to Nursing program smack down- it is the way you say it
  • Nobody mentioned brand new tech building while some buildings were literally falling apart
  • Idea should have been "let's come together on this" - but no cross collaboration
  • Focus was entirely on money - not on students, learning
  • What is the mission of the institution? A new president in a new institution should build from a common mission

In regards to case study analysis assignment- Always look at what is going on, and then look for the "what's the something else?" For example, "so and so" is coming from a structural frame. This is evident... The implications of this may be...

Bolman & Deal: Chapter 1 Introduction: The Power of Reframing

Multiframe Thinking: Four-Frame Model

Virtues and Drawbacks of Organized Activity:

  • Interconnectedness and organized activity allow capabilities for human enterprises to offer almost everything we need or enjoy.
  • Too often, organizations are also hurting and eploiting people.
  • How do we make sure the beneifts an organization proivides outweighs the harm an organization may inflict?The Curse of Cluelessness:
  • Why do super smart people get into powerful positions and then do really dumb things? Feinberg and Tarrant (1995) attribute this to "self-destructive intelligence syndrome"- smart people act stupid because of personality flaws.
  • We construct our own frames and then lock ourselves in them. When we run into new problems and do not know what to do, we do more of the same, resulting in further problems.
  • Dilbert Principle: "the most ineffective workers are systematically moved to the place where they can do the least damage - management."Strategies for Improving Organizations: The Track Record
  • Upgrading management
  • Hire conultants
  • When management and conultants fail, government responds with legislation, poilcies, and regulations.Framing:
  • Frames are mental models, also known as maps, mind-sets, schema, and cognitive lenses, that are the basis to making sense of the world. Usually consists of a set of ideas and assumptions within which decisions are guided.
  • Fluid framing (rapid cognition) is described by Dane and Pratt (2007) as the "Blink" process which is nonconscious, very fast, holistic, and results in effective judgements.
  • Frame breaking or reframing involves being able to size up situations, apply different frames, and make decisions depending on the reframed perception of the problem (multiframe thinking).
  • Four Frames (see exhibit 1.1 Overview of the Four-Frame Model, p18)
    • Structural- Like Factories- structural frame focusing on goals, structure, technology, roles, coordination, formal relationships, divison of labor, rules, policies, procedures, systems, hierarchies.
    • Human Resource- Like Families- Focus on interpersonal relationships (finding ways to get the job done while getting people to feel good about themseleves and work)
    • Political View- Like Jungles- Organizations are full of individuals or groups in conflict vying for scarce resources. Bargaining, negotiation, coercion, and compromise are common. Problems arise when too much power is concentrated in one group or individual.
    • Symbolic- Like Temples and Carnivals- Culture of organization influenced by rituals, ceremonies, stories, heroes, and myths, rather tan rules and policy. The organization is also much like theater where people play their roles. Problems arise when people do not play their roles or rituals lose meaning.

Bolman & Deal: Chapter 2: Simple Ideas, Complex Organizations

Fallacies in Explaining Organizational Problems:

  • blaming people - "oversimplifies the problem and does little to prevent it's recurrence"
  • blaming the bureaucracy - results in either too much rigidity and "red tape" or too much freedom with not enough control
  • thirsting for power - the dog-eat-dog environment causes the organizational problemsPeculiarities of Organizations:
  • organizations are complex
  • organizations are surprising
  • organizations are deceptive
  • organizations are ambiguousOrganizational Learning:
  • Learning has been acknowledged to occur on an organizational level. Much organizational learning is capable of far more than individual learning. However there are plenty of examples of instnaces when individuals learned and the organization did not, and vice versa.
  • Organizational learning described as protocols, shared culture codes, traditions.
  • Learning occurs best when link between cause and effect is clear. When effects result far from the cause, it is difficult to observe the relationship (example of flipping a switch and watching a light come on vs. flipping a switch tha flushes a distant toilet).
  • System blindness can occur when too many switches have unobservable effects in an organization. Often it is a result of "troubled relationships between groups that" know little of the positions above or below them. Short term decisions often have long term effects that are not immediately observable. Senge's "system maps" are a tool to define and clarify how a system works to avoid missing the long term gaps between cause and effect.
  • Argyris and Schon believe it is human behavior that inhibits learning. We naturally avoid conflict by ignoring or covering up issues. As the issues develop into larger problems, it becomes difficult to engage others about the same problems we have been trying to cover up.Coping with Ambiguity and Complexity:
  • "You see what you expect"- quick judgements are necessary and not perfect. Available clues, expectations from prior knowledge, decision making patterns all affect accuracy of decisions.
  • "The world we percieve is, for the most part, constructed internally." The ability to size of up a situation quickly is what makes a good leader.The Dilemma of Changing or Conserving:
  • Whether good or bad, our theories and frames "shield us from confusion, uncertainty, and anxiety." Reframing is difficult and risky, but is necessary when all that has been attempted to resolve an issue based on your initial mental map has not worked.

Morgan: Chapter 1 Introduction

Effective Managers are skilled at "reading" situations

  • This is a trait that can be developed
  • A good leader must be open and flexible, not make quick judgments

Metaphors for Organizations:

  • It is important to keep in mind that metaphors are limited
  • They can be too extreme or too narrow if you look at only one, which leads to distortion
  • It is essential to not view organizations from just one theory
  • There is no right or wrong organizational theory; every theory illuminates and hidesMetaphors for Organizations discussed in this book:
  • Ch. 2: Machines
  • Ch. 3: Organisms
  • Ch. 4: Brains
  • Ch. 5: Cultures
  • Ch. 6: Political
  • Ch. 7: Psychic Prisons
  • Ch. 8: Flux & Transformation
  • Ch. 9: Instruments of Domination


Morgan: Chapter 3 Organizations as Organisms

  • Organizations can be viewed as living systems that depend on the wider environment for survival.
  • There are different species of organizations within different environments.
  • Employees are people with complex needs, and they work best when they are intrinsically motivated.
  • The Hawthorne Studies of the 1920s and 30s studied the relationship between working conditions and motivation of employees.
  • Modern organizational theory suggests that people work best when their needs are satisfied, and organizations benefit from satisfied employees.
  • Sociotechnical systems theory suggests that aspects of work are inseparable- technical needs and human needs affect each other and depend on each other.Organizations as Open Systems:
  • Organizations are open to the environment and, therefore, must achieve positive relations with that environmentContingency Theory:
  • Organizations are open systems. It is important to balance internal needs with the environment
  • There is no one best way to organize
  • Management must be concerned with finding "good fits" (alignment) between people and roles
  • Different approaches to management are necessary in different situations
  • Different 'species' of organizations are needed in different environmentsChanges in the surrounding environment require open, flexible systems that can adapt to change
    Top management must interpret changing conditions and develop new strategies.
    Population-Ecology view: (pessimistic)
  • Based on Darwin's theory of natural selection
  • Organizations come and go, survive and fail, as whole species
  • Organizations depend on their ability to acquire an adequate supply of resources necessary to survive (survival of the fittest)
  • The environment is key to the success or failure of organizationsA real-life example of an organization that didn't keep up with the changing environment: Blockbuster
    Organizational Ecology: (optimistic)
  • Organizations are not isolated entities; they are part of a complex ecosystem
  • "Survival of the fitting"
  • Organizations and environments co-create each other; organizations influence environments too
  • Collaboration between organizations and different industries can change and shape the environment and help organizations survive

Further Reading:
The Hawthorne Studies Reevaluated

Why projects fail? How contingency theory can provide new insights- A comparative analysis of NASA's Mars Climate Orbiter loss

Population ecology theory: implications for sustainability

Metaphors (Ecology) – Morgan
Frames – Bolman and Deal
  • Capable of creating valuable insight (p.5)
  • Provides understanding of relations between organizations and their environment (p.65)
  • Shows how organizations can improve by focusing on the needs of organizational survival (p.65)
  • Identifying organizations as species emphasizes that there are multiple options for organizations (p.66)
  • Stresses the importance of organic forms of organization for innovation (p.66)
  • Focusing on ecology stresses the importance of interorganizational relations (p.66)
  • Use metaphor to capture the essence of organizations (p.15)
  • Provide different lens, or ways, to view organizations (p. 18)
  • Multiple perspectives provide significant positive effects over short and long term (p.19)
  • Provides a defense against thrashing about without a clue (p.21)
  • Are powerful and coherent (p.22)
  • Provides a way to accurately diagnose a situation or organization (p.38)
  • Portray organizational behavior as pluralistic rather than fragmented (p.41)
  • Is incomplete, biased, and potentially misleading (p. 5)
  • Inherently paradoxical (p.5)
  • The ecology metaphor can be to concrete (p.67)
  • Organizations are products of visions, ideas, norms, and beliefs so they are more fragile than organisms (p.67)
  • Make organizations and members feel dependent upon external forces by ignoring members ability to influence the world around them and impact their future (p.67 - 68)
  • Organizations are not as unified as organisms (p. 68)
  • Can become an ideology (p. 69)
  • Can distort the reality of organizations (p.18)
  • Individuals use incomplete frames based on their experience and oversimplify organizations (p. 19)
  • Individually the frames are an incomplete picture of organizations (p.22)
  • Individuals oversimplify with “one-size-fits-all” concepts like blaming others, blaming bureaucracy, and blaming those who thirst for power (p. 25-28)
  • Individuals can embrace theory and try to make the world conform to the theory rather than having the theory explain the world (p. 40)

Bess & Dee: Approaches to Organizational Analysis: Three Paradigms

The Jigsaw Exercise

Basic Assumptions
Leadership Application
Auguste Comte
Other contributors:
  • one objective reality
  • dualistic ontology
  • scientific method used to solve problems
  • seeks to maintain the status quo
  • Vienna Circle - emergence of logical positivism

Sequence of actions:

  • identify the problem
  • identify unit of analysis
  • identify theory needed for analysis
  • look for relationships to predict outcome
  • can make a leader uncomfortable with ambiguity
  • ignores complexity
  • can overlook ethical considerations
Social Constructionist
Berger and Luckmann
Other contributors:
  • subject and object are inseparable
  • all dimensions are created through ongoing action, negotiation, and agreement (Giddens, Wieck)
  • knowledge is produced and reproduced socially through communication
  • collaborative
  • flexible
  • leaders & followers cannot be separated
  • focus is on interactions rather than on skill sets
  • limits/delays decision making
  • input from others may not be accurate
  • equality assumed but does not always exist
Jacques Derrida
Michel Foucault
  • deconstruction of words and beliefs
  • power linked to knowledge, privilege
  • conflict necessary for change
  • future is not based on the past, therefore, it cannot be predicted
  • the dominant culture must always be challenged and/or changed
  • question the status-quo
  • deconstruct arguments
  • include underrepresented groups in decision making
  • embrace paradox
  • hard for leaders to focus group energy for action
  • good approach for exposing and defining problems; less effective for finding solutions

Duryea: Evolution of University Organizations

12th C. Church ruled just about everything.
13th C. Power shifts to states and kings
Papal rule of universities
15th+16th C. King must grant charters for universities
(he can also take charters away!)
A charter provided the rules and regulations
that govern universities.
17th C. First colonial colleges in America
1636: Harvard
1693: William & Mary (Go Tribe!)
18th C. New philosophy: sovereignty by the people
(thanks to John Locke)
Government is a compact among individuals
19th C. Charters are considered legally binding contracts
Faculty gained influence in academic affairs
Alumni became active in government of colleges
and universities
20th C. University government centered around the
office of the president.
Changes in the 1900s:

  • new education focused on marketable skills, not just students' character
  • students gained right to choose their courses
  • course catalogs grew tremendously
  • more students, more professors, more buildings, more facilities, ...and more $$$
  • greater demands on the president led to increased administrative bureaucracy
  • specialized departments and schools emerged
  • vice-presidents and deans put in place to assist president
  • diversity and expansion became the focus
  • faculty, alumni, and student involvement increased in college government