• If you are citizen of an European Union member nation, you may not use this service unless you are at least 16 years old.

  • Want to get organized in 2022? Let Dokkio put your cloud files (Drive, Dropbox, and Slack and Gmail attachments) and documents (Google Docs, Sheets, and Notion) in order. Try Dokkio (from the makers of PBworks) for free. Available on the web, Mac, and Windows.



Page history last edited by PBworks 14 years, 7 months ago
Chapter 3 – Nature Intervenes: Organizations as Organisms
            Morgan explores the metaphor of organizations as organisms in this chapter examining theories that view organizations as living or open systems. In direct contrast to organizations as machines, organizations as organisms recognize the impact and importance of the environment to organizations. Morgan examines three variations of the organism metaphor. The first is the Contingency Theory, which focuses on adapting the organization to fit the environment. Here leaders are trying to find a “good fit,” ever conscious of the dynamic environment and understanding there is no one way to best organize. The second theory of organizations as organisms is that of Natural Selection, an application of Darwin’s theory. This theory focuses on the dependence of adequate resources and engages in competition. In this view, the environment has more control over the outcomes than individual organizations. Lastly, in part in response to the deterministic view that the previous theory supported, the organizational ecology perspective focuses on the idea of a web of organizations not as individual organizations separate from the environment. An ecology perspective embraces complexity and seeks out patterns of evolution, thus recognizing that organizations affect and interact with environments at the same time environments affect and interact with organizations.
            Morgan offers both strengths and limitations to this metaphor of organizations as organisms. Like all metaphors, he recognizes that it can only take us so far in understanding organizations. The main strength of the metaphor, however, is its acknowledgment of the relationship between environment and organization. Secondly, the metaphor emphasizes process because of the end goal of survival. In order to survive, the organization must be in balance with the environment. In addition, options, innovation, and inter-organizational relations are also strengths cited by Morgan. One major limitation that Morgan cites is the fact that the metaphor makes the environment and organization too concrete whereas they are really socially constructed. One of the main differences between organisms and organizations is that organisms operate in a state of functional interdependence where every element of the system works for all other elements. If one part of the organization isn’t working in harmony with the rest in doesn’t mean the organization will cease to exist, it simply means it may not be producing the end product that it truly wants in its entirety but is capable of continuing. In addition, in the organization as organism metaphor control seems to be placed externally in the environment, neglecting the influence of individuals and the organization.
What motivates one person doesn't always motivate the next.  To look at an organization as if it were an organism is an interesting theory.  An organism is a living thing that is always changing and growing. An organism is one part of a complex system.  People who work in an organization are one part of what can also be said to be a complex system.  Just as organisms have complex needs to survive, people also have complex needs to survive and thrive.  I believe that what motivates most people hinges on allowing people to achieve rewards and to develop interpersonal relationships along with leadership roles that are meaningful to them and to the organization as a whole.
In Peter Senge’s, The Fifth Discipline, Senge outlines five key disciplines that are needed to create a learning organization. Senge states that learning organizations are organizations in which “people continually expand their capacity to create the results they truly desire”. Senge speaks to the idea of interdependency where he states that “we live our lives in webs of interdependence”. If Senge is correct when he says that we live our lives in webs of interdependence then I believe that individuals depend on other individuals, just like biological organisms, within the system for many types of support and motivation. Senge speaks to a systems theory where I believe the leader needs to understand the system in which they are operating from within. 
            In the metaphor of organizations as organisms, the environment plays a significant role in the success of an organization. Environment plays the only role in the Natural Selection sub-metaphor, whereas the Contingency and Organizational Ecology metaphors recognize the organization as having a role in the outcomes of the organization. In contrast to organizations as machines where roles are tightly defined within the organization, the organism metaphor treats roles as dynamic, changing in order to meet the needs of the organization in order to achieve “survival.”
            Using the metaphor of organizations as organisms requires a different leadership mode. The leadership must be dynamic in order to find the “best fit” in changing environments. In finding a best fit in terms of hiring or adding to the organization the leader must know the strengths and weaknesses with in the organization. Organizations consist of organizational subsystems that pose the question of what the “best fit” is. An example of an organization having many subsystems is the typical American High School. You have teachers who work in departments. Those departments are one piece of the organization. The departments can sometimes work as separate entities of the whole in terms of the organization. Within departments you typically have departmental leaders who oversee that aspect of the organization and act as a type of conduit for disseminating information and decision making when combined with other department heads and administration.
            One job of the leader is having the ability to diagnose problems with in the organization. Just as a doctor will diagnose an ailment when dealing with a person, the leader must also have this ability. When diagnosing a problem the leader must be able to look at the organizational subsystems, gather data, and look at how these subsystems are working together toward the greater good of the organizational whole. The book says to look at the organization’s environment. Is it a stable, complex or a turbulent environment. Once this is defined we need to define the strategy that will be used to move the organization in the intended direction. One example of this might be the idea of developing professional learning communities. Another question would be to determine the processes that will be used in implementing the strategy that has been developed that is aimed at the ailment or change that is needed. A leader must look at the people with in the organization and determine what kind of people are employed, what is the culture of the organization, and what types of core values do the people who work in the organization bring to work. One theme in education is the idea that all children can learn. What is the organization prepared to do when children aren’t learning or meeting the standard that has been set? Are people there for the paycheck or are they there searching for challenge. What is the structure of the organization and what are the responsibilities of those who work in it? Many times the structure of an organization is defined by the leader. Does the leader have an autocratic or democratic type of leadership- style? In staying with the idea that organizations are inter-related systems that depend on each other for success, the leader must be able to answer the above questions.
Power and Influence:
            The environment creates a tremendous amount of power and influence in the organizations as organisms metaphor. Depending on the sub-metaphor, that power and influence is more prominent. For example, in the Natural Selection metaphor, the environment has almost total control over the outcomes, whereas the Organizational Ecology metaphor balances the power between the environment and the organization and recognizes that the organization and its members do exert power and influence on both the environment and the organization itself.
            Groups within the organization, especially in the Organizational Ecology framework, tend to be formed based on the need to “survive” in different environments. Because of this, groups are often formed and disbanded based on the environment and the changes it presents. Groups are not formed based on a predetermined hierarchy, but often emerge because of the environment.
I believe that the culture of the organization may be one of the most important variables in the success of the organization. The culture of an organization is many times created by those who lead it. It is a caring culture or one where the focus is strictly on the end result where strategies that are employed are a means to an end. The culture of an organization speaks directly to the beliefs and practices that it holds to be true. When thinking about culture a leader must help define why the organization exists and to lead by example.  The relations between organizational and environmental characteristics will also define what type of culture an organization has. Is the environment stable, moderate, or in a state of confusion? The task of the leader in developing the culture of an organization will depend on how the variables of core values, beliefs, and organizational structure are in alignment. Organizational harmony relies on human decision making, action, and the ability of its leaders in developing shared or common values.
            The environment in which one works will also shape the culture and will play a role in which organizations will succeed. Does the environment promote collaboration, collegiality, cooperation, and respect, or does it promote just the opposite. Do people feel safe and are their basic needs being met? Does the environment promote action research or does it promote one way of doing things? Are people included in the decision making process or are told what to do? The culture of an organization is a socially constructed idea. Organizations are products of visions, ideas, and beliefs which fundamentally depend on each other for life and success.


Comments (0)

You don't have permission to comment on this page.