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

  • Finally, you can manage your Google Docs, uploads, and email attachments (plus Dropbox and Slack files) in one convenient place. Claim a free account, and in less than 2 minutes, Dokkio (from the makers of PBworks) can automatically organize your content for you.


Political systems

Page history last edited by PBworks 13 years, 7 months ago


Kathy & Dan





Chapter 6 Interests, Conflict, and Power: Organizations as political systems




Morgan begins this chapter with a quote from a troubled factory worker. His issue is that outside of work he is afforded all of the rights of every other citizen in the particular democratic society in which he lives, but that at work, he is subject to the capricious whims of his authoritarian supervisor. 


While it often seems that the governance of organizations is an apolitical phenomenon, Morgan suggests that it might be useful to view organizations as "instrinsically political" entities. This is based on a view that organizations consist of groups of people who need to be "managed" or "governed"--essentially controlled. Morgan describes how Aristotle viewed politics as a means controlling a diverse group of people without reverting to forms of "totalitarian rule." (Morgan, 2006, pp. 150-151)


Morgan gives examples of six basic forms of government that might be exemplified in organizations: autocracy (rule by one or a few), bureaucracy (rule through the use of rules/laws), technocracy (rule through use of knowledge/expertise), co-determination (rule by coalitions of opposing groups), representative democracy (rule by elected representatives), direct democracy (decision-making by all members in the group). No group, according to Morgan, is likely to be governed exclusively by any one of these forms of government. Rather, it is more likely that organizations will exhibit combinations of these various forms. (Morgan, 2006, pp. 153ff)


In Morgan's analysis of organizational politics, he focusses on the relationship between interest, conflict, and power. The tension that is created by the differences inherent between group members is where the political work in organizations occurs. This work, Morgan says, is often accomplished behind the scenes "in a way that is invisible to all but those directly involved." (Morgan, 2006, p. 156)


Interests are further divided by Morgan into task interests; career interests; and, extrmural interests. Task interests are related to the work one does 'on the job.' Career interests represent a worker's "aspirations and visions as to what their future might hold" and might be unrelated to the organization in which the worker is currently situated. Extramural interests represent the combination of beliefs, preferences, values, and other factors possesed by workers that are external to the organization, but that influence both job performance and careers. (Morgan, 2006, p. 157)


Conflicts, according to Morgan, arise when interests collide. He cautions against viewing conflict as entirely negative, suggesting that it is better to view conflict as an inherent and natural characteristic of organizations. (Morgan, 2006, pp. 163-166)


Power is described as the "Medium through which conflicts of interest are ultimately resolve." Power can be viewed as a resource, as a social relationship "characterized by some kind of dependency, or as the ability of one person to "get another person to do something that he or she would not otherwise have done." Morgan describes a variety of sources of power: formal authority; control of scarce resources; use of organizational structure; rules and regulations; control of decision processes; control of knowledge and information; control of boundaries; ability to cope with uncertainty; control of technology; interpersonal alliances; control of counterorganizations; symbolism and management of meaning; gender and management of gender relations; structural factors that define stage of actions; and, the power one already has. (Morgan, 2006, pp. 167ff)


Morgan then describes interests, conflict, and power in light of three different organizational frames of reference: unitary, pluralist, and radical. A unitary frame of reference is one in which organizational goals are paramount to individual concerns, conflict is managed to make it disappear, and there is tight control of the organization by a few. In a pluralist frame of reference, differences between group members are expected, conflict is seen as natural and possible beneficial, and power is derived from a variety of sources. The radical frame of reference is one in which the organization is comprised of competing subgroups competing toward "incompatible ends," conflict is expected, and power distributions are reflective of those in the larger society. (Morgan, 2006, pp. 195ff)


Analyzing Chapter 6 through Charles Handy's Concepts for Understanding Organizations




If we view motivation as the expression of individual (or group) desire for the achievement of a given end (goal), then politics can be the means by which that end is achieved. Politics can influence how individuals work together toward the achievement of common goals, and can be leveraged by individuals working against each other when they possess competing interests and are working toward different goals.


Understanding the motivation of individuals is likely the first step in understanding how and why political power is being deployed. Morgan says that it can be helpful "to understand the power dynamics within an organization" and that doing so can "identify the ways in which organizational members can attempt to exert their influence." (Morgan, 2006, p. 166)




The roles of individuals in organizations is often to related to the way in which power is conceptualized and exercised.  Roles can also be assigned based on the type of political rule that prevails within an organization. For instance, in an autocratically goverened organization, one is either the "ruler" or the one of the "ruled." 


Leadership, Power, & Influence


The expression of leadership in an organization, viewed as a political system, is bound up--like roles--in the form of governance that prevails.  In other words, the prevailing system of organizational  governance contains inherent leadership roles. In an autocracy, someone is the 'autocrat.' Leadership can also be expressed through the actions of individuals in the interest of advancing a particular agenda--one which may not coincide with the goals of the organization. These leaders operate through the use of politics, leveraging their power and influence.


Power and influence, in this chapter, is read as political power, or the ability to effectively use politics to achieve some desired end--or to prevent the achievement of someone else's desired end, as described above.




Morgan (2006) described how Aristotle saw politics as a means of controlling diverse groups of people. An analysis of organizations as political systems would be meaningless if there did not exist within organizations competing groups or individuals to engage in 'politics.' Groups, in this view, are likely to form along lines of common interests and common ideologies.




The form of governance prevailing within an organization, as well as the kinds of 'politics' that are expressed help to shape organizational culture. If politics is an inherent aspect of organizations, it will also be an inherent aspect of the culture of the organization.


Comments (0)

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