The Challenger disaster is a classic case study for observing the political frame and the dynamics that create a potentially negative outcome. Sometimes data and other facts are overlooked in the decision-making process to instead deal with political pressures of other groups and/or coalitions. The general public has heard that the root cause of the space Challenger was due to O-ring failure. In the case study, you may have noticed the actual root cause of the Challenger disaster—the push for approval from a “managerial perspective.”
Review this week’s resources, including the Challenger case study in Chapter 7 of the course text, Reframing Organizations. After reading the case on the Challenger disaster, develop your initial post. (Note: Use Exhibit 6.1, “Organizations and Modes of Political Rule,” on p. 153 in the course text, Images of Organization.)
Identify and explain the modes of political influences in the U.S. space shuttle Challenger case study (Chapter 9 in Bolman & Deal).
Describe the impact of inter-organizational politics between NASA and Thiokol.
Describe the impact to the ecosystem that NASA was operating in at the time of the U.S. space shuttle Challenger disaster.
Explain how you think managers could have prevented the failure of the space shuttle Challenger disaster. Do not fall for the hindsight fallacy that you could have known then what you know now. Rather, think about the circumstances and conditions that existed at the time of the decision and make recommendations that could have mitigated the outcome that would make sense in the context of the actual decision.
The Space Shuttle Challenger Disaster
A failure in decision support system and human factors management
by Jeff Forrest
Metropolitan State College
This article discusses the environmental and human decision making factors that were associated with the launching of the Space Shuttle Challenger on January 28, 1986. Shortly after launch, the Shuttle exploded destroying the vehicle and all crew members. The cause and contributing factors that lead to the Challenger tragedy are explored in detail. Focus is placed on NASA’s use of a group decision support system (GDSS) meeting to make the decision to launch.
Examples are included that show how contributing factors such as multiple priorities and demands influenced NASA from operating in a responsible and ethical manner. Proof that NASA used a flawed database in its GDSS and how it mismanaged the GDSS meeting is also offered. Finally, the inability of each GDSS member to vote anonymously on the decision to launch is discussed as a critical factor that, had it been allowed, probably would have prevented the Challenger tragedy.
THE SHUTTLE 51-L MISSION
Environmental Factors- Societal Impacts
The Space Shuttle Challenger 51-L was the 25th mission in NASA’s STS program. On Jan. 28, 1986, STS 51-L exploded shortly after liftoff, destroying the vehicle and all of its seven crew members.
The STS 51-L mission was to deploy the second Tracking and Data Relay Satellite and the Spartan Halley’s Comet observer. Paramount to this mission was crew member S. Christa McAuliffe – the first Space Shuttle passenger/observer participating in the NASA Teacher in Space Program (cf. ). Ms. McAuliffe would have conducted live educational broadcasts from the Shuttle and transmitted them to classrooms throughout the world.
The loss of life and the unique position that symbolized Christa McAuliffe as the first civilian working as a teacher in space had a profound impact on society and its attitude toward NASA and the U.S. Space programs.
As this article will explore, the tragic decision to launch STS 51-L was based on long term contributing factors and the use of a flawed group decision support system that was further aggravated by its related mismanagement. The outcome of this action created costs to society in terms of life, resources and public mistrust. NASA subsequently experienced years of setback for its related scientific research and operations.
Human Factors – Contributing to a Tragedy
Although the destruction of the Shuttle Challenger was caused by the hardware failure of a solid rocket booster (SRB) “O” ring, the human decision to launch was, in itself, flawed. The resolution to launch was based upon faulty group decision support information and further aggravated by the related mismanagement of that information. However, as in most transportation accidents, there are usually other contributing factors that help to create an environment leading to mistakes and failures. Therefore, a brief review of the contributing factors leading to the Challenger destruction is in order.
Environmental Factors – Demands on the Space Shuttle
The process of “selling” the American public and its political system the need for a reusable space transportation system began in the late 1960’s. Conceptually, the Space Shuttle was introduced during the crest of the successful Apollo mission. Unlike the Apollo mission, the Space Shuttle was approved as a method for operating in space, without a firm definition of what its operational goals would be ( pg. 3). Here is the first contributing factor. The Shuttle was developed as a utility without a firm application. Therefore, support for such a project, both politically and economically, was not very strong. To gain political support it was sold as a project with a “quick payoff” (cf., ). Additional support was gained by offering the Shuttle program to the military as a means to increase national security and to industry as a tool to open new commercial opportunity. Scientists argued to the American people that the Shuttle would be an “American Voyage” ( pg. 10) with great scientific gain. Globally, the Shuttle was sold as a partnership with the European Space Agency (ESA) and as a means to improve national and social relations by combining peoples of different nationalities, races and sexes who would serve as crew members.
The process used to develop economic, political and social support for the shuttle introduced the second contributing factor called heterogeneous engineering. That is, the Shuttle engineering and management decisions were made to meet the needs of organizational, political, and economic factors as opposed to a single entity mission profile with specific goals ( pg. 9). Once functional, the Shuttle became exposed to operational demands from a multitude of users. The Shuttle now had to live up to NASA’s promises. Coordinating the needs of political, commercial, military, international and scientific communities placed immense pressures on the Shuttle management team. First, political pressure to provide a reliable, reusable space vehicle with rapid turn around time and deployment seriously hindered the ability for effective systems integration and development. Secondly, it was not feasible to construct any complete management support systems (MSS) that could consider all of the factors associated with such a diverse group of environmental variables. Third, additional uncertainty and low NASA employee moral was created when the Reagan Administration pushed for the Shuttle to be declared “operational” before the “developmental” stage had been completed .
After spending billions of dollars to go to the moon, Congress expected the Shuttle program to be financially self-supportive ( pg. 15). This forced NASA to operate as a pseudo commercial business. Therefore, the environment within NASA preceding the Challenger launch was one of conflict, stress, and short cuts .
Decision Support System (DSS) – Environmental Effects
The probability for disaster was growing higher as increasing demands were being placed on NASA just prior to the Challenger launch . A false sense of security was felt by NASA officials, with twenty-four successful Shuttle missions to their credit. Just prior to the STS 51-L launch, NASA was an organization filled with internal strife and territorial battles(, pg. 412). Mangers operated in an environment of “overload and turbulence” . In short, NASA was characterized as having a “disease ” ( pg.414) of decay and destruction.
As incredible as it may seem, it would appear that NASA had no formal DSS program initialized for the Shuttle operations before the Challenger launch. Evidence is strong that decisions were made primarily by “satisficing” and conscious “muddling through.” Specific characteristics of decision making at the time consisted of short cuts, compromise and operational heuristics (“operational heuristics; to cannibalize existing parts” as defined by Jarman and Kouzmin  pg. 414). In short, NASA was operating in a phase of semi-uncontrolled decision making while trying to serve the military, industry and international research organizations with a space vehicle that had been declared operational before completion of the developmental stage .
NASA used decision making by default as its primary DSS. Its organizational boundary was highly political and open for manipulation by any entity that could exert political power. Upon declaring the Shuttle “operational,” the Reagan Administration removed the motivation of NASA employees to manage and left them with the impression that decision making would be made by directive from political sources.
The declaration of “operational” status was the critical turning point for NASA and its management of Shuttle operations. Complacency began to grow among employees and safety considerations were traded for time spent on keeping the Shuttle on schedule and “the client of the day” satisfied. This was the environment just before the launch of STS 51-L.
THE DECISION TO LAUNCH
Group Decision Support System (GDSS) – Situational Analysis
A group support system did exist between NASA and related developers of the Shuttle. Focus in this discussion will be placed on Thiokol – the subcontractor directly responsible for the development of the SRB “O” rings. The GDSS system between NASA and Thiokol consisted of same-time/different-place conference rooms equipped with a connected and distributed computer interface. Speaker phones with audio only were also available.
On the evening of January 27, 1986, Thiokol was providing information to NASA regarding concerns for the next day’s planned launch of STS 51-l. Thiokol engineers were very concerned that the abnormally cold temperatures would affect the “O” rings to nonperformance standards. The mission had already been canceled due to weather, and, as far as NASA was concerned, another cancellation due to weather was unthinkable ( pg. 23). Both parties were already aware that the seals on the SRB needed upgrading but did not feel that it was critical. Though the information provided by the GDSS (with an associated expert system) showed that the “O” rings would perform under the predicted temperatures, Thiokol engineers questioned their own testing and data that were programmed into the GDSS. Thus on the eve of the Challenger launch, NASA was being informed that their GDSS had a flawed data base.
At this point, NASA requested a definitive recommendation from Thiokol on whether to launch. Thiokol representatives recommended not to launch until the outside air temperature reached 53º F. The forecast for Florida did not show temperatures reaching this baseline for several days. NASA responded with pressure on Thiokol to change their decision. NASA’s level III manager, Mr. Lawrence Mulloy, responded to Thiokol’s decision by asking, “My God, Thiokol, when do you want me to launch, next April?” ( pg. 24).
After this comment the Thiokol representatives requested five minutes to go off-line from the GDSS. During this period the Thiokol management requested the chief engineer to “take off his engineering hat and put on his management cap,” suggesting that organizational goals be placed ahead of safety considerations . Thiokol reentered the GDSS and recommended that NASA launch. NASA asked if there were any other objections from any other GDSS member, and there was not.
Group Support System – Critical Analysis
There is little doubt that the environment from which NASA and its affiliated developers operated provided an opportunity for significant human error. Nevertheless, NASA and Thiokol had a “golden” opportunity to avoid disaster during their GDSS meeting before the STS 51-L launch. The following factors are offered as potential explanations for what created the flawed GDSS and the associated mismanagement of its information:
First, Thiokol was aware of the “O” ring problem at least several months before the Challenger launch. However, the goal was to stay on schedule. NASA was made aware of the problem but it was “down-played” as a low risk situation. Here is the first element of flawed information that was input into the GDSS. If NASA had been aware of the significance of the “O” ring situation, they probably would have given more credence to the advice of the Thiokol engineers’ recommendations. However, the data transmitted during the GDSS meeting from Thiokol did say that it would be safe to launch for the forecasted temperatures. NASA was frustrated over the conflicting advice from the same source.
Second, the decision to delay a Shuttle launch had developed into an “unwanted” decision by the members of the Shuttle team . In other words, suggestions made by any group member that would ultimately support a scheduled launch were met with positive support by the group. Any suggestion that would lead to a delay was rejected by the group.
Third, all members of the GDSS felt that they should live up to the “norms” of the group. Although the Thiokol engineers were firm on their recommendation to scrub the launch, they soon changed their presentation of objections once threatened with the possibility of being expelled from the program (as suggested by a NASA administrator who was “appalled” at a company that would make such a recommendation based on the data available) .
Fourth, Thiokol became highly susceptible to “groupthink” when they requested a break from the GDSS. At this point they became insulated, conducted private conversations under high stress and were afraid of losing potential future revenue should they disagree with NASA. All these factors are considered prime to the formulation of “groupthink” .
Fifth, all parties were afraid of public and political response to another launch cancellation (there had already been six cancellations that year). Each party began to rationalize that past success equaled future success .
Finally, the GDSS was seriously flawed. As already mentioned, the data base contained erroneous information regarding the “O” rings. Ideas, suggestions and objections were solicited but not anonymously. Individuals who departed from the group norms were signaled out as unwelcome members. An agenda was never defined and NASA was therefore surprised by the Thiokol presentation. Conflict management was avoided by NASA’s domination of the entire meeting. NASA, at times, became very assertive and intimidating. Considering NASA’s attitude, no group member or individual was willing to be held accountable for any comment or decision .
The setting for such an important GDSS meeting was also ineffective. Considering that a speaker phone and CPU modem was used, it was easy for NASA to down-play the personal opinions of the Thiokol engineers. If the meeting could have been held at the same place for all members, the outcome might have been different. At the end of the meeting NASA, very reluctantly, suggested that they would still cancel the launch if Thiokol insisted. No response from Thiokol was made and the NASA officials could not see the expression of “self-censorship” that was being communicated on the face of each Thiokol engineer .
Perhaps the most significant flaw in the GDSS was when Thiokol requested a private five minute meeting with its own members. Up to this point Thiokol had stayed with its recommendation to cancel the launch. Once disconnected, Thiokol became an isolated member and the GDSS failed altogether. Once reconnected, Thiokol had changed its position and offered the go ahead to launch without any objection.
The Critical Human Factor – Need for Voting Tool
Many conclusions may be drawn as to the primary cause and contributing factors associated with the Challenger tragedy. It is the opinion of this author that regarding the GDSS and decision to launch the ability of each member to have voted anonymously was the key factor that would have maintained the integrity of the GDSS and the quality of the decision.
It has been shown that just after Thiokol’s presentation to NASA, most of the GDSS group members were very concerned with the “O” ring situation and believed that the opinions expressed by Thiokol engineers were cause for serious consideration of launch cancellation . However, only selected senior officials were allowed to vote their “opinion”, which they did verbally and at the request of NASA. From the research conducted on this paper, the author believes that had a universal anonymous vote been conducted of the total GDSS membership, a decision to cancel the launch would have been made.
The factors which lead to the Challenger incident can be traced back to the inception of the shuttle program. NASA and Thiokol failed to maintain a quality assurance program through MSS, as was initiated on the Apollo program, due to multiple source demands and political pressures. The GDSS used for the launch decision contained inaccurate data. Engineering members of the GDSS did not believe in the testing procedures used to generate the data components in the GDSS. And, the entire meeting was mismanaged.
The decision to launch the Challenger Shuttle and its subsequent destruction had a major affect on society and the management of our space program. Challenger’s unique mission and the death of Christa McAuliffe opened the door for discussion and research on how managers use DSS to make decisions that will affect public trust.
Ethics and MSS/DSS – Human Factors Management
A complete discussion of ethical decision making is beyond the scope of this article. However, the question of how NASA and Thiokol managed ethical considerations is central to the decision to launch the Challenger Shuttle and, therefore, deserves a brief overview.
The first area of ethical concern is the area of information accuracy. The fact that both NASA’s and Thiokol’s managers had little regard to the concerns of Thiokol’s engineers is very distressing. All members of the group made a decision knowing that the decision was based on flawed information. A second concern is that the decision made put safety last and operational goals first. Only one member of the GDSS expressed serious concern for the potential loss of life . Additionally, open and free communication before and during the GDSS meeting was discouraged through such group dynamics as mind guarding, direct pressure and self-censorship . Individuals who know of a situation that, unless acted upon with integrity might cause social harm, have a responsibility to contact any authority that will manage and control that situation in the best interest of the public ( “Whistleblowing, pg. 34).
Human factors analysis and management science have begun to define the incorporation of MSS/DSS as a socially responsive way of conducting business ( pg. 826). This is especially true for government agencies and large public projects like the Shuttle program. It could be argued that GDSS technology had not evolved to the level of effectiveness that was needed to support the Challenger project. The success of the DSS used in the prior Apollo mission shows that this was not the case. In the Challenger program social and ethical decision making was discarded for the sake of cost, schedule and outside environmental demands.
 NASA Spacelink Challenger Press Release, http://history.nasa.gov/sts51lpresskit.pdf
 Launius, Roger D., “Toward an Understanding of the Space Shuttle: A Historiographical Essay”. Air Power History, Winter 1992, vil. 39, no. 4.
 Jarman A. and Kouzmin, A., “Decision pathways from crisis. A contingency-theory simulation heuristic for the Challenger Shuttle disaster”, Contemporary Crises, December 01, 1990, vol. 14, no. 4.
 Kramer, Ronald C. and Jaska, James A., “The Space Shuttle Disaster: Ethical Issues in Organizational Decision Making”, Western Michigan University, April 1987, 39 pgs.
 Groupthink videorecording written by and produced by Kirby Timmons; produced by Melanie Mihal, Carlsbad, Calif., CRM Films, c 1991 25min.
 Turban, Efraim, Decision Support and Expert Systems, Macmillan Publishing Company, N.Y., N.Y. 1993.
The NASA history site on the Challenger STS 51-L Accident at http://history.nasa.gov/sts51l.html links to many resources including Jeff Forrest’s analysis. Reader’s are especially encouraged to read and review the Report of the Presidential Commission on the Space Shuttle Challenger Accident (commonly called the Rogers Commission Report), June 1986 and the Implementations of the Recommendations, June 1987. The GDSS was an audio teleconference. The slides had been faxed to the NASA meeting site. Mr. Mulloy of NASA testified that Mr. Kilminster of Thiokol requested the 5 minute off-net caucus that ultimately lasted approximately 30 minutes. The opinions in this analysis are those of the author and not necessarily those of the Editor or of DSSResources.com.
Some Questions for Further Analysis and Discussion
What is a group decision support system?
Did NASA and Thiokol use a GDSS?
Did the group decision support system fail or was the problem with the participants?
What do you think was the cause of the decision-making failure in this situation?
Could improved GDSS technology have avoided this tragedy? If so what was needed? Video, anonymous voting?
Please cite as:
Forrest, J., “The Space Shuttle Challenger Disaster: A failure in decision support system and human factors management”, originally prepared November 26, 1996, published October 7, 2005 at URL DSSResources.COM.
Jeff Forrest is an Associate Professor and Chair of the Aviation & Aerospace Science Department at Metropolitan State College (MSCD) in Denver, Colorado. He is also pursuing a Doctoral Degree in Information Science in The School of Computer and Information Sciences at Nova Southeastern University. Contact him by email at email@example.com .
Jeff Forrest provided permission to publish this case analysis at DSSResources.COM on August 28, 2005. This article was posted at DSSResources.COM on Friday, October 7, 2005.
This case analysis was posted at DSSResources.com to honor the memory of Francis R. Scobee, Space Shuttle Challenger Commander, Michael J. Smith, Pilot, Judith A. Resnik, Mission Specialist 1, Ellison S. Onizuka, Mission Specialist 2, Ronald E. McNair, Mission Specialist 3, Gregory B. Jarvis, Payload Specialist 1, and Sharon Christa McAuliffe, Payload Specialist 2. May their lives and subsequent tragic deaths remind us of the limitations of both people and technologies.
Space Shuttle Challenger Crew
back row, left to right: Ellison Onizuka, Christa McAuliffe, Greg Jarvis, Judy Resnik. front row, left to right: Michael Smith, Dick Scobee, Ronald McNair.
Rest in peace.
This case analysis is provided for informational purposes only. DSSResources.COM makes no warranties, express or implied, about the accuracy of the conclusions.
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Morgan, G. (1998). Images of Organization. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications. Walker Management Library: HD 31.M628 An Overview The underlying priciple of the books is that all management theory and practice is based on images or metaphors that lead us to understand situations in powerful, yet partial ways. To achieve greater effectiveness, managers must become skilled at reading organizations from different perspectives, and developing action strategies that are consistent with the insights they glean. Managers who are skilled in the art of reading organizational life have a capacity to remain open and flexible, suspending immediate judgements until a more comprehensive view of the situation emerges. Metaphor is “a primal force through which humans create meaning by using one element of experience to understand another. Metaphor gives us the opportunity to stretch our thinking and deepen our understanding, therefore allowing us to see things in new ways and act in new ways. Applied in this way, metaphor becomes a tool for creating an understanding about what we now recognize as organization and management.” (Morgan) Metaphor can also create distortions (example, comparing a man to a lion when he really does not have fur, claw or a tail). Consider the popular metaphor that the organization is a machine. The metaphor has valuable insights, but neglects the human element. Metaphors are often one-sided or biased, and can be misleading. In approaching the same situation in different ways, metaphors extend insight and suggest actions that may not have been possible before. The insights generated by different metaphors are not just theoretical, they are incredibly practical. Metaphors lead to new metaphors, creating a mosaic of competing and complementary insights. Metaphors shape what we see, so this is the manager’s dilemma – we often tend to realize what we are looking for. Taken to the extremes metaphors can encounter severe limitations, can be incredibly persuasive, but blinding and block our overall view. While metaphors create insight, they also distort. While they have strengths, they also have limitations. In creating ways of seeing and acting, metaphors tend to create ways of not seeing and acting. Some Images of Organizations Organization as a Machine Some organizations are run as a machine. Max Weber’s bureaucracy – precision, speed, clarity, regularity, reliability, efficiency is achieved through a fixed division of tasks, heirarchy, supervision, detailed rules, and regulations. Weber was one of the first organizational theorist to observe parallels between the mechanization of industry, and bureaucratic forms of organization. He noted that the bureaucratic form routinizes the process of administration exactly as the machine routinizes production. He felt this eroded the human spirit and capacity for spontaneous action. Weber was concerned with the effects of bureaucracy on society. Classical management and mechanistic principles of organization Theorist Henri Fayol, F.W. Mooney, and Col. Lyndall Urwick all had an interest in the problems of practical management and sought to codify their experience of successful organization for others by process of: planning, organization, command, coordination, and control. Collectively they set the basis for modern management techniques, such as: management by objectives (MBO); planning, programming, budgeting, systems (PPBS), and other theories stressing rational planning and control. Organization became a form of engineering. Just like an engineer designs a machine, classical theorists were attempting to achieve a similar design approach to organizations: 1) conceived organization as a network of parts, 2) they designed the organizational structure to operate as precise as possible. Classical management principles created limited flexibility through decentralized forms of organizations, where units are allowed to operate in a semi-autonomous manner under general, rather than detailed, supervision. The ability to decentralize has greatly advanced due to MBOs, PPBS, and Management Information Systems (MIS) which are used to establish top down control and impose a mechanistic system of goals and objectives on an organization. Dehumanization of workers to meet organizational objectives The classical theorist gave little attention to the human aspects of the organization and considered organization to be a technical problem. The “reengineering movement” of the 1990’s opposed bureaucracy and urged a new mechanistic design building around key business processes instead of bureaucratic functions. Working under the old classical theory assumption that if you get the engineering right, the human factor will fall into place. The human factor often subverts the reengineering process leading to massive failure rates. The whole thrust of classical management theory and its modern application is to suggest that organizations can or should be rational systems that operate in as efficient manner as possible. This is easier said than done, because we are dealing with people, not inanimate cogs and wheels. Scientific Management – Perfecting Technical Design Frederick Taylor was an American engineer who believed in increasing efficiency by breaking work into its smallest parts. He believed: 1) Shift all responsibility from worker to manager 2) Use scientific methods to determine the most efficient way to do work 3) Select the best person to perform the job 4) Train the worker to do work efficiently 5) Monitor worker performance to ensure procedures were followed and results achieved * Exampled are assembly line or fast food work. However, increasing productivity came at a human cost, reducing workers to automatons. Scientific Management aka “McDonaldization” (McJobs) results in dehumanization. The ultimate goal is to find the “one best way” to organize. Strengths and Limitations of the Machine Metaphor Strengths: 1) Mechanistic approaches work well under conditions where machines work well: straightforward task, consistency, precision is a premium (fast food example). Limitations: 1) Mechanistic approaches create organizational forms that have difficulty in adapting to change. 2) Mechanistic approaches result in mindless and unquestioning bureaucracy – ready-made responses, myopic views. Organizations as Organisms The image of an organism, seeking to adapt and survive in a changing environment, offers a powerful perspective for managers who want to help their organizations flow with change. The metaphor helps us to understand organizations as clusters of interconnected human, business, and technical needs. It encourages us to learn about the art of corporate survival. It urges us to develop vibrant organic systems that remain open to new challenges. The metaphor suggests that different environments favor different species of organizations based on different methods of organizing, and that congruence with the environment is the key to success. Certain species are better adapted to specific environmental conditions than others. The Organismic metaphor has helped organizational theorist to identify: 1) Organizations as “open systems” 2) The process of adapting organizations to environments 3) Organizational life cycles 4) Factors influencing organizational health and development 5) Different species of organizations 6) The relations between species and their ecology Discovering organizational needs Organization theory began its excursion into biology by developing the idea that employees are people with complex needs that must be satisfied to lead full and healthy lives and perform in the workplace. Whereas under “Taylorism” organizations were viewed as a technical problem (machines) and reduced to “paying the right rate for the job,” much of organizational theory since the late 1920’s has focused the limitations of the machine perspective and sought to identify the social and psychological needs of people in organizations. The Hawthorne Studies (1920’s-1930’s), lead by Elton Mayo are now famous for identifying the importance of social needs in the workplace. A new theory of organization began to emerge, built on the idea that individuals and groups, like biological organisms, operate most effectively when their needs are satisfied. Abraham Maslow’s theory suggests that humans are motivated by a heirarchy of needs, not just money as suggested in bureaucratic organizations. Many management theorist were quick to see that jobs and interpersonal relations could be redesigned to create conditions for personal growth that would simultaneously help organizations achieve their aims and objectives. The idea of integrating the needs of individuals and organizations became a powerful force. Alternatives to bureaucratic organizations began to emerge and show how structure, leadership, and work can be modified to create “enriched,” motivating jobs that would encourage people to exercise their capacity for self control and creativity. Particular attention was paid to making jobs meaningful by giving autonomy, responsibility, and recognition. Job enrichment combined with a more participative, democratic, and employee-centered style of leadership took precedence over more authoritatian and dehumanizing approaches generated by scientific and classical management theory. Since the 1960’s, management and organization researchers have given attention to shaping the design of work to increase productivity and job satisfaction while improving work quality and lowering absenteeism and turnover. Human Resource Management has been a major focus with the realized need of integrating the human and technical aspects of work. Sociotechnical Systems places a dual focus on people and technology. Recognizing the importance of environment, the organization is seen as an “open system” that is open to their environment and must achieve an appropriate relation with that environment if they are to survive. The open system approach has generated many new concepts for thinking of social systems and organizations, such as: open system, homeostasis, entropy, negative entropy, requisite variety, equifinality, system evolution. Practical implications of open systems: 1) Open system theory emphasizes the importance of environment in which the organization exists. 2) Organizations are seen as sets of interrelated sub-systems. 3) The open systems approach encourages us to establish contingencies or alignments between different systems and to identify and eliminate potential dysfuntions. Collectively these ideas have helped organizational and management theory to break free of bureaucratic thinking to organize in a way that meets the requirements of the environment. Contingency Theory: Adapting Organizations to Environment The main ideas underlying contigency theory: 1) Organizations are open systems that need careful management to satisfy and balance internal needs and adapt to environmental circumstances. 2) There is no “one best way” of organizing – the appropriate form depends on the environment. 3) Management must be concerned with alignment and “good fits.” 4) Different approaches to management may be necessary to perform different tasks within the same organization. 5) Different types or “species” of organizations are needed in different types of environments. Mechanistic vs. Organic Organizations In a 1950’s study by Tom Burns and G.M. Stalker distinguished between “mechanistic” and “organic” approaches to organization and management (see photocopies for details). Awareness of the need for internal differentiation and integration Lawrence and Lorsch’s research was built upon two principal ideas: 1) That different kinds of organizations are needed to deal with different market and technological conditions. 2) Organizations operating in uncertain and turbulent environments need to achieve a higher degree of internal differentiation than those that are less complex and more stable. They studied high-low performance organizations in plastics and container industries, and their hypotheses were supported. Their study yielded important insights on modes of integration. In stable environments, bureaucratic modes of integration work well, while in turbulent environments, more project teams, coordination, and conflict resolution are needed. Lawrence and Lorsch gave refinement to the idea that certain organizations need to be more organic than others. The variety of the species Since the 1960’s, research has been placed on the idea that there are different “species” of organizations. Henry Mintzberg lists 5 types: 1) Machine bureaucracy – simple, stable, high efficiency, centralized control systems 2) Divisionalized form – many divisions with central control 3) Professional bureaucracy – more autononmy, less heirarchy, standards in professional training 4) Simple structure – chief executive, support staff, typical of young innovative companies. 5) Adhocracy – complex, very organic, virtual or network organizations Contingency Theory – Promoting Organizational Health and Development How do organizations achieve a good fit with their environment? Ask a series of questions: 1) What is the nature of the organization’s environment? 2) What kind of strategy is being employed? 3) What kind of technology is being used? 4) What kinds of people are employed, and what is the dominant culture or ethos within the organization? 5) How is the organization structured, and what are the dominant managerial philosophies? Natural Selection: The population ecology view of organizations There is some criticism to contigency theory and in organizations that “adapt” to their environment that it attributes too much flexibility, and some advocate that we should focus on how the environment “selects” organizations and that this can be analyzed by population ecology. The “population ecology” view of organizations brings Darwin’s theory of evolution front and center. In essence, organizations, like organisms in nature, depend for survival on their ability to acquire an adequate supply of resources necessary to sustain existence. They face competition for scarce resources and only the fittest survive. Insights created by the Populations Ecology perspective: 1) Inertial pressures may prevent organizations from changing in response to their environment. 2) Faced with new kinds of competition or environmental circumstances, whole industries or types of organizations may come and go. 3) The ability to obtain a resource niche and out perform one’s competitors is all important, and in the long run, relative superiority in being able to command resources applies to whole populations of organizations. 4) An awareness of the changing structure of critical resource niches and patterns of resource dependencies can make important contributions to our understanding of the success and power of different organizations. Criticisms to Populations Ecology theory: 1) The theory is too deterministic. 2) It is seen as placing too much emphasis on resource scarcity and competition. Organizational Ecology: The creation of shared futures Population ecology and contingency theory views both see organizations in a state of struggle and tension, and assume that organization and environment are separate phenomena. However, some critics say organizations, like organisms, are not discrete entities living in isolation, but rather, that they exist in complex ecosystems. Many biologist feel that the whole ecosystem can only be understood at the level of total ecology. That evolution is a pattern of relations embracing organisms and their environments. It is the pattern and not the separate units that evolves. Kenneth Boulding phrased it “survival of the fitting,” not just survival of the fittest. Collaboration, competition, and the evolutionary process In the organizational world we find that, as in nature, collaboration is as common as competition. Social scientist are now investigating developing new patterns of interorganizational relations that shape the future in a proactive way – the relationships help make the turbulence more manageable. Strengths and Limitations of the Organismic Metaphor: Strengths: 1) The metaphor suggests that organizations must always pay close attention to their external environments. 2) Survival and evolution have become central concerns. 3) Achieving congruence with environment becomes a key managerial task. 4) The perpective contributes to the theory and practice of organizational development. 5) We acquire a new understanding of organizational ecology. Limitations: 1) Organizations are not organisms and their environments are far less concrete than the metaphor presumes. 2) The metaphor overstates the degree of functional unity and internal cohesion found in most organizations. 3) The metaphor can easily become ideolgy. Organizations as Brains What if we think of organizations as brains? 1) We focus on learning abilities and processes that stunt or enhance organizational intelligence. 2) We discover how the findings of modern brain research can be translated into design principles for creating learning organizations. 3) We learn how intelligence can be distributed throughout an enterprise. 4) We see how the power of information technology can be used to develop decentralized modes of organization that are simultaneously global and local. As we move into a knowledge-based economy where information, knowledge, and learning are key resources, the inspiration of the living, learning brain provides a powerful image for creating organizations ideally suited to the digital age. The brain is a processor, memory bank, complex computer, and holographic system. A holograph uses lensless cameras to record information in a way that stores the whole in all of the parts. Holography demonstrates that it is possible to create processes where the whole can be encoded in all of the parts, so that each and every part represents the whole. Neuroscientists, Karl Pribram, suggests memory is distributed throughout the brain and can be reconstituted from any of the parts. Lashley’s experiments with rats supports this – they were able to function with large portions of their brains removed. Holographic evidence favors a more decentralized distribution form of intelligence. No center point of control. Pattern and order emerge from the process – it is not imposed. The holographic explanation somewhat downplays the strong system specialization of the brain. The brain is both holographic and specialized. This is illustrated in “split brain” (left/right brain) research. Organizations as information processing brains Organizations are information systems and involve information processing. Electronics allow networked intelligence within and external to organizations (both inter- and intranet). Technology has allowed for “virtual” organizations with distributed processes all over the world. In this world of rapid change and transformation organizations face the challenges of executing tasks in a rational way, and they face constant learning. Creating learning organizations Cybernetics is an interdisciplinary science focusing on the study of information, communication, and control. The core insight from cybernetic theory is negative feedback. Negative feedback suggests action occurs through a process of error elimination, whereby deviations are reduced at every stage of the process. Negative feedback and self-regulating learning systems must learn to: 1) Sense, monitor, and scan significant aspects of the environment, 2) Relate this information to the operating norms that guide quick system behavior, 3) Detect significant deviations from these norms, and 4) Initiate corrective action when discrepancies are detected. Learning abilities are limited by the norms or standards guiding actions, so intelligence breaks down when the process of negative feedback tries to maintain an inappropriate pattern of behavior. Thus, learning to learn has been distinct in cybernetics from the process of learning. Can organizations learn to learn? Many organizations have become proficient at single-loop learning, developing an ability to scan the environment, set objectives, and monitor the general performance of the system in relation to these objectives. This basic skill is often institutionalized in the form of information systems designed to keep the organization on course, such as: 1) Budgets and management controls 2) Bureaucratization 3) Process of bureaucratic accountability and reward/punishment Cybernetics suggests learning organizations must: 1) Scan and anticipate change in wider environments and detect variations 2) Develop ability to question, challenge, and change operating norms and assumptions 3) Allow an appropriate strategic direction and pattern of organization to emerge To achieve these aims they must evolve designs that allow them to become skilled in double-loop learning. The practice of double-loop learning has become well established as a strategic level. Most organizations have recognized the importance of challenging key business paradigms using brainstorming sessions, and other forms of creative thinking to create new directions. W. Edwards Deming, Joseph Juran, et. al. started the quality movement. Total Quality Management (TQM) Movement (the Japanese concept of Kaizen) fosters continuous improvement and double-loop learning. Employers are encouraged to: 1) Dig beneath the surface of recurring problems to uncover the forces that cause them. 2) Examine existing modes of practice and find better ones. 3) Create languages, mindsets, and values that make learning a priority. In challenging operating norms and assumptions this way, the approaches create information, insights, and capacities through which a system can evolve. It embraces taking risks and promotes openness. Encouraging “emergent” organization The human brain is a decentralized, emergent phenomenon. Intelligence evolves. The answer derived from cybernetics is one of “reference points” or sense of vision, norms, values, limits that guide behavior. However, they must be defined in a way that possible actiona and behaviors emerge, including those that question the limits being imposed. Targets tend to be straightjackets. Cybernetic “points of reference” create space in which learning and innovation can occur (versus a topdown management approach which focuses on control and clearly defined targets). Western management overasserts desired intentions and underplays the “limits” that need to guide behavior. The message of cybernetics: 1) Learn from “ringi” a collective decision making process (circulated). 2) Be sure to surface “do nots” 3) Effective management depends as much on limits on behavior as on active pursuit of desired goals. Organizations as holographic brains: self -organization and regeneration The metaphor of a hologram invites us to think of systems where qualities of the whole are enfolded into all of the parts, so that the system has the ability to self-organize and regenerate itself on a continuous basis. When organizational units are allowed to develop in a manner that enhances local intelligence, whether in the form of a self-organizing work group committed to continuous process and product innovation or a decentralized company with semiautonomous units each meeting the needs of different environmental niches, capacities for intelligent self-organization of the whole system are enhanced. Any system with the ability to self-organize must have a degree of redundancy (excess capacity) in order to have room for innovation and not be fixed or static. In an organizational context, redundancy plays a similar role “parallel processing” sharing of information can be a source of creativity and shared understanding. Redundancy can be built into the skills and mindset within an organization. Fred Emergy suggest 2 methods for building in redundancy: 1) Redundancy of parts – part or people 2) Redundancy of functions – flexibility of role and function Requisite variety is the cybernetic principle that internal diversity of any self-regulatory system must match the variety and complexity of its environment. Minimum specs is a concept that systems need the freedom to evolve, so they must have a degree of autonomy. Learning to learn – continuous self-organization requires a capacity for double-loop learning that allows operating norms and rules of a system to change along with the transformation in the wider environment. Strengths and Limitations of the Brain Metaphor Strengths: 1) The metaphor give clear guidelines for creating learning organizations 2) We learn how information technology can support intelligent evolution 3) We gain a new theory of management based on principles of self-organization 4) We recognize the importance of dealing with paradox Limitations: 1) There may be conflict between the requirements of organizational learning and realities of power and control. 2) Learning for the sake of learning can become just another ideology. Organizations as Cultures When we view organizations as cultures, we see them as mini – societies with their own distinctive values, rituals, ideologies, and beliefs. We see: 1) Cross-national variations in cultural style 2) Inidividual organizations may have their own unique cultures 3) We learn that what unfolds in an organization is a reflection of what is in their minds 4) We note that some corporate cultures are uniform and others are fragmented subcultures 5) We realize that organization rests in shared meetings that allow people to behave in organized ways During the 1960’s confidence and impact of American management seemed surpreme. Gradually in the 1970’s performance of the Japanese automobile, electronic, and other industries led Japan to take command of international markets; establishing a reputation of quality, reliability, value, and service. Most theorist agreed that the culture and general way of life in Japan played a major role. Culture became a hot topic in the 1980’s and early 1990’s, prompting Western management theorist to take special interest in culture and characteristics of their own countries and organizational life. Culture, whether Japanese, Arabian, British, Canadian, Chinese, French, or American, shapes the character of the organization. Japanese – culture of cooperation and service; British – culture of deep division; American – culture of competition. One of the interesting aspects of culture is that it creates a form of “blindness” and ethnocentricism. Providing taken-for-granted codes of action that are viewed as normal, and leads us to see activities that do not conform as being abnormal. The influence of a host culture is rarely uniform. Just as individuals have different personalities, so do groups and organizations. This is now recognized as “corporate culture.” Organizations are minisocieties that have their own distinctive patterns of culture and subculture. The easiest way to view the nature of corporate culture is to observe the day to day functioning of a group or organization as if we were an outsider or anthropologist. Leadership style influences culture, and so does gender. Male dominated value systems are logical, linear, thoughts and actions drive results rather than network or community building. Female influence balances both rational and organic styles. Female values in organizations balance the rational-analytic mode with an emphasis on empathic, intuitive, organic forms of behavior. Interestingly, the new flat network forms of organization that are emerging to cope with the uncertainty and turbulence of modern environments require managerial competencies that are more in common with the female archetype than male. As this develops, we expect to see the transformation of many corporate cultures and subcultures away from the dominant influence of male values and modes of behavior. Females help create cultures where hierarchy gives way to “webs of inclusion.” They manage in a way that puts them “in the middle of things,” building communities based on inclusive relationships, characterized by trust, support, encouragement, and mutual respect. Females build truly networked organizations. Culture develops through the course of social interaction of: 1) Professional groups 2) Subcultures: social and ethnic groups 3) Coalitions and counter cultures (politics) Culture: Rule following or enactment? Harold Garfinkel (sociologist) states that most routine (taken-forgranted) aspects of social reality are a skillful accomplishment. Disruption of norms breaks down ordered social reality. In a sense, the nature of culture is found in social norms and customs, and if one adheres to the rules, then they will be successful in constructing an appropriate social reality. However, there is more to culture than rule following. Norms and rules must be defined in light of our understanding the context. Karl Weick described the process of how we shape and structure our realities as a process of enactment. Like Garfinkel’s concept of accomplishment, Weick’s concept stresses the proactive role we unconsciously play in creating our world. Organizations: The enactment of a shared reality Organizations as social constructions emphasize that we must root our understanding of organization in the processes that produce systems of shared meaning. Organizationally, shared meanings provide alternatives to control through external procedures and rules. Just as tribal society’s values, beliefs, and traditions may be embedded in kinship and other social structures, it is the same with organizational culture that is embedded in the routine aspects of everyday practice. Routines are important in understanding why organizations work when noone is really looking, and also why organizations resist change. New insights on group functioning: 1) Formation of a group process of becoming a leader hinges on the ability to create a shared sense of reality. 2) We find cohesive groups arise around shared understandings, while fragmented groups tend to be characterized by multiple realities. Strengths and Limitations of the Culture Metaphor Strenths: 1) The metaphor emphasizes the symbolic significance of almost everything we do as humans 2) We learn that the organization and shared meaning are one and the same 3) Leaders and managers see how their success hinges on the creation of shared meaning 4) Leaders and managers gain a new understanding of their impact and role 5) We see organizations and their environments as enacted domains 6) Strategic management is understood as an enactment process 7) The metaphor offers a fresh perspective on organizational change Limitations: 1) The metaphor can be used to support ideological manipulation and control 2) Culture is holographic and cannot really be managed 3) Like an iceberg, important dimensions of culture are always invisible, and what is seen is relatively unimportant 4) Culture usually has a deep political dimension, making it impossible to grasp the full significance of culture though the culture metaphor Under the mechanical and organic metaphors there was an emphasis on organizational design, whereas, the culture metaphor points towards a means of creating and shaping organized activity by influencing ideologies, beliefs, language, norms, ceremonies, and other social practices that ultimately shape and guide organizational action. Since the 1980’s there has been a growing realization that the fundemental task facing leaders is in creating appropriate systems of shared meaning that can mobilize the efforts of people in pursuit of desired aims and objectives. Organizations as Political Systems When we see organizations through the lens of politics, patterns of competing interests, conflicts, and power plays dominate the scene. 1) We view the organization and management as a political process 2) We can identify different styles of government 3) We see how organization becomes politicized because of divergent interests of individuals and groups 4) We appreciate the fact that conflict is a natural property of every organization 5) We observe many different sources of power and learn how they can be used to our advantage Understanding organizations in political terms allows us to accept politics as an inevitable feature of corporate life. We learn that effective managers are skilled political actors who recognize the continuous interplay between competing interests and who use conflict as a positive force. Some organizations may be highly authoritarian while others may be model democracies. By recognizing that an organization is intrinsically political in the sense that a way must be found to create order and direction among politically diverse and conflicting interests. We learn about problems and legitimacy of management as a process of government and the relation between organization and society. Types of organizations: 1) autocracy – absolute dictatoral power, paternalistic organization 2) bureaucracy – rules guide organizational activity, laws and government regulatory agencies 3) Technocracy – power is linked to technological expertise, flexible firms 4) Democracy – rule rests with the populace, participative form of rule We can analyze organizational politics in a systematic way by focusing on relations among interests, conflicts, and power. Interests are predispositions that embraces goals, values, desires, expectations, and other orientations that lead a persons behavior. Interests can be seen as an interlocking set of organizational interests of task, career, and personal domains of interactions. In contrast with the view that organizations are integrated rational enterprises with a common goal, the political metaphor encourages us to see organizations as a loose network of people with divergent interests who gather together for the sake of expediency in pursuing a common goal. Coalitions arise when groups of individuals get together on specific issues, events, and decisions to advance specific values and ideologies. Coalition development offers a strategy for advancing interest, power, and influence on an organization. Conflicts arise when interests collide. Some people encourage conflict and organizational politics because they are designed as systems of simultaneous competition and collaboration. Some relationships may be governed by hidden agendas. Power is the medium through which conflicts of interest are ultimately resolved. Power influences who gets what, when, how. The following are the most important sources of power: 1) Formal authority – is a form of legitimized power that is respected and acknowledged by those with whom they interact. (position in an organization) 2) Control of scarce resources – ability to control the flow of resources, such as money, materials, technology, or personnel. We can also increase our power by reducing our dependence on others. 3) The use of the organizational rules, regulations, and procedures – these are best seen as the struggle for political control. Rules that are designed to guide and streamline activities can almost always be used to block activities to gain power and control. 4) Control of decision process – this is best viewed in 3 interelated elements: a. Decision premises – control the foundation of decision making, such as controlling agendas and strategies to guide or force others to our point of view. b. Decision process – controlling the who, when how of a decision. c. Decision issues and objectives – preparing reports and contributing to the discussion on which the issues are based. 5) Control of knowledge and information – man skillful organizational politicians control information flows and knowledge that is made available to different people, thereby influencing perception of situations and hence the ways they act in relation to those situations. These politicians are often known as “gatekeepers” opening and closing channels of communication and filtering, summarizing, analyzing, and shaping knowledge in accordance with a view of the world that favors their interests. Also, having the right information at the right time, and expertise is seen as a form of power. 6) Control of boundaries – by monitoring and controlling boundary transactions, for example those between departmental work groups, is considerable power. 7) Ability to cope with uncertainty – ability to cope when there are unpredictable situations that arise in organizations can carry power. 8) Control of technology – some organizations become dependent on a technology and thus the kind of technology employed influences the interdependence within an organization and the power relations between individuals and departments. 9) Interpersonal alliances, networks, and control of “informal organization” – friends in high places, sponsors, mentors, affiliations, and coalitions all provide sources of power. 10) Control of counter organizations – the strategy of countervailing power provides a way of influencing organizations where one is not a part of the established structure – by joining trade unions, consumer associations, lobby groups, and exercising pressures to balance power relations. 11) Symbolism and the management of meaning – authoritarian leader sell or tell reality on subordinates, while democratic leaders influence is subtle and symbolic. Managing meaning and interpretations is a form of symbolic power. 12) Gender management of gender relations – everyone’s power is shaped to some extent by gender bias. 13) Structural factors that define the stage of action – sometimes structural, organizational, and environmental factors block power. 14) The power one already has – power is a route to power. One can use power to acquire more. Power has a “honeypot” effect where it draws people to feed off of your power. Politics is taboo and rarely discussed which makes it difficult for members to deal with this aspect of organizational reality. Strengths and Limitations of the Political Metaphor Strengths: 1) The political metaphor encourages us to see how all organizational activity is interest-based and to evaluate functioning within this mindset. 2) The role of power is placed at center stage. 3) Conflict management becomes a key activity. 4) The myth of organizational rationality is debunked. 5) Organizational integration become problematic (downsizing conflicts with team/family organizational concepts). 6) Politics is a natural feature of organization. 7) The political metaphor raises fundemental questions about power and control in society. Limitations: 1) Politics can breed more politics. 2) From certain standpoints, the political metaphor can seem too unfriendly because it underplays gross inequalities in power and influence. Organizations as Psychic Prisons What if we view organizations as systems that get trapped in their own thoughts and actions? Obsessions, mindtraps, latent sexuality, narcissism, fear of death, strong emotions, illusions of control, anxieties, and defense mechanisms become the focus of attention. We see: 1) Organization always has unconscious significance. 2) We learn how psychic forces can act as hidden dimensions of organization that encourage or block innovation. 3) We pay attention to how frozen mindsets and unconscious forces can make people resist organizational change. 4) We recongize the power and significance of what, on the surface, seems irrational. 5) We recognize how we can become imprisoned by our ways of thinking and how this pattern can be changed. Organizations get trapped in favored ways of thinking, and so ways of seeing become ways of not seeing. (hearkens back to selective attention in the book “Social Animal” by Aronson – myopia). Powerful visions of the future can lead to blind spots. Organizations can also be blinded by “group think” (hearkens back to Social Animal and Productive Workplaces books). Group Think is a term that was coined by Irving Janis that characterizes situations where people are carried along by group illusions and perceptions that have a self-sealing quality. Organization and the unconscious suggest what happens at surface level must take into account the hidden structure and dynamics of the human psyche, ie. Freud’s repression of unconscious fears and desires. Wilfred Bion (Tavistock) outlined 3 styles of operation that employ defense over anxiety: 1) dependency – some anxiety that they feel they need leadership 2) pairing – fantasy that a messiah figure will emerge 3) fight-flight – project fears onto some enemy Aspects of organizational structure can be understood as defense mechanisms – organizational scapegoats. Fred Taylor’s personal demons and anal-compulsive nature influenced his leadership style and organizational influence. People may rely on work, environment, or phenomena in defining their sense of identity, and if this phenomena is challenged, so is their identity. Theories of transitional phenomena and associated areas of illusion add to our understanding of how we engage and contruct organizational reality and the role of unconscious in shaping and resisting change. Transitional phenomena are objects that mediate the replacement of another object to help maintain a sense of identity (such as a child’s teddy bear or blanket). For voluntary change, the person must be in control of the process and make an effective transition from one state to another. Organization: Shadow and Archetype Whereas Freud was preoccupied with the demands of the body, as a carrier of the psyche, placed on the unconscious, Jung broke away to view the psyche as part of a universal and transcendental reality or “collective unconscious.” Shadow is Jung’s term to refer to unrecognized or unwanted drives and desires (a repressed shadow of an organization acts as a reservior of forces that are unwanted and repressed). Archetypes according to Jung are recurring themes of thought and experience that seem to have universal significance and used to create meaning and give people a sense of their place in the world. Unconscious – Frances Delhanty and Gary Gemmill suggest that we should understand the role of the unconscious in organizational life as a kind of “blackhole” that is invisible, but contains intense gravitational fields that capture all passing matter – a sort of invisible dimension in organizations that can swallow or trap the rich energies of people involved in the organizational process. Strengths and Limitations of the Psychic Prison Metaphor Strengths: 1) The metaphor encourages us to challenge basic assumptions about how we see and experience our world. 2) We gain important insights into the challenges of organizational innovation and change. 3) The “irrational” is put into a new perspective. 4) We are encouraged to integrate and manage competing tensions rather than allow one side to dominate. 5) Ethical management acquires a new dimension. Limitations: 1) A focus on the unconscious may deflect attention from other forces of control. 2) The metaphor underestimates the power of vested interests in sustaining the status quo. 3) There is danger in insights that can be used to exploit the unconscious for organizational gain. Organizations as Flux and Transformation What happens when we look beyond the surface appearance of organizations and see them as expressions of deeper processes of transformation and change: 1) We gain insights into the fundemental nature of change. 2) We see that deep systemic forces are contantly either locking organizations into the status quo or driving their transformation. 3) We acquire new and powerful perspectives for intervention using images of spirals, loops, and contradictions to help organizations shift from one pattern of operation to another. These ideas lead us to new sciences of autopeiesis, chaos, complexity, and paradox with powerful implications for understanding organization and environment in the broadest sense. Around 500 B.C. The Greek philosopher Heraclitus noted that “you cannot step twice into the same river, for other waters are constantly flowing on.” He was one of the first Western philosophers to address the idea that the universe is in a constant state of flux, embodying characteristics of both permanence and change. For Heraclitus, the secrets of the universe were to be found in the hidden tensions and connections that simultaneously create patterns of unity and change. David Bohm developed “implicate” (enfolded) and “explicate” (unfolded) theory that views the world as a whirlpool in a river that has no existence other than the movement in the river. Four logics of change: 1) Autopoiesis – a new perspective that puts the relationship between systems and their environment in a new light. 2) Chaos and complexity theory – how ordered patterns of activity can emerge from spontaneous self-organization. 3) Cybernetic ideas – suggesting change is enfolded in the strains and tensions found in circular relations. 4) Dialetical tensions – change is the product of opposites. Autopoiesis: The logic of self-reference Autopoiesis is a systems theory developed by Humberto Maturana and Francisco Varela that argues that all living systems are organizationally closed, autonomous systems that make reference only to themselves. Their theory challenges the validity of distinctions drawn between a system and its environment, and offers a new perspective for understanding the processes through which living systems change. Maturana and Varela base their argument on the idea that living systems are characterized by 3 principal features: autonomy, curcularity, and self-reference. These principals lend them the ability to self-create or self-renew, and they termed this capacity of selfproductions – autopoiesis. They contend that the aim of autopoiesis of systems is to ultimately produce themselves – their organization and identity is their most important product. The ideas of autopoiesis are very consistent with Karl Weick’s idea of organizations “enacting” their environment. People assigning patterns of meaning and significance to the world is all part of the selfreferential process (reference points) by which the organization attempts to reproduce itself. Egocentricism is a danger to an organization. As a result of egocentricism, many organizations end up trying to sustain unrealistic identities or to produce identities that destroy important elements of the contexts of which they are a part of. Egocentric organizations tend to see survival as hinging on the preservation of their own fixed and narrowly defined identity rather than on the evolution of the more fluid and open identity system to which they belong. Shifting “Attractors” the Logic of Chaos and Complexity Whether we are examining a flock of birds, changing relationships between predators and prey, developing weather patterns, we can detect a common process of spontaneous self-organization. If a system has a sufficient degree of internal complexity, randomness, and diversity, then instability becomes a great resource for change. Attractors, such as those that change our mental attentions to one thing or another (dripping faucet to crickets), change patterns. Complex systems seem to have a natural tendency to get caught in tensions between attractors and fall under the influence of a dominant attractor that ultimately defines the contexts in which detailed system behaviors unfold. Chaos theorist have also noted that complex systems fall under the influence of different types of attractors and pulls in the system into states of equillibrium or near equillibrium as a result of negative feedback loops that counteract destabilizing fluctuations. Bifurcation Points are like forks in the road that lead to different futures. Bifurcation points are points when a system is “pushed” far from its equillibrium toward an “edge of chaos.” New order emerges in any complex system that is pushed into the edge of chaos. Order is natural, but cannot be predicted. The art of managing and changing context The fundemental role of managers is to shape and create contexts in which the appropriate form of self-organization can occur. Managers have to be skilled in helping to shape the minimum specs that define appropriate context while allowing the details to unfold within this frame. Resistances in an organization arise when the forces of an established attractor are more powerful than those of an emergent one. The challenge is to shift the balance by using small changes to create larger effects (butterfly effect). These ideas encourage us to cut through the complexity of change to focus on a few key principles that offer the promise of achieving quantum change incrementally. Chaos managers must recognize forks in the road that lead to interventions towards the desired new contexts. Loops not lines: the logic of mutual causality Magorah Maruyama observed feedback systems: 1) The process of negative feedback, where change in a variable initiates counteracting forces leading to changes in the opposite direction, are important in the accounting for stability of systems. 2) Processes characterized by positive feedback, where more leads to more and less leads to less, are important in accounting for escalating patterns of system change. Strengths and Limitations of Loop Analysis: 1) It invites us to understand key patterns that are shaping system dynamics, especially those that are locking the system into viscious circles because of clusters of positive feedback loops. 2) It encourages us to approach organizational and social problems with a mindset that respects patterns of mutual causality and cultivates what Gregory Bateson described as “systemic wisdom.” 3) Instead of thinking about problems mechanistically and trying to manipulate linear “causes” and “effects,” it encourages us to develop a mindset and skill that focuses on recognizing and changing patterns. 4) It provides a methodology for acting on insights about the nature of autopoiesis for modifying the self-referential processes that create system identity. It provides a methodology for analyzing a system’s attractor patterns and for changing their trajectory. 5) It provides insight on how small changes can create large effects. Mutual Causality refers to causes due to many interacting forces. Contradiction and Crisis: the Logic of Dialectical Change Any phenomenon implies and generates its opposite – yin and yang. Marx named 3 dialectical priciples: 1) Mutual struggle – unity of opposites. 2) Negation of the negation – each pattern of control will retain an element of previous negation. 3) Transformation of quantity into quality. These principles focus on the interplay of how opposites fuel social change, and how all societies have a tendency to transform and destroy themselves because of inner contradictions that cannot be contained. Marx’s contradictions in work organization: Capitalism – buyers pitted against sellers, and employers against employees. Capitalism is riddled and driven by contradictions. The Marxian dialectic played itself out in the early struggles between capital and labor. The dialectics of management: 1) Forces managers to see the flux and contradictions shaping organizational life. 2) Provide insight for micromanagement of capitalism at the organizational level. Strengths and Limitations of the Flux and Transformation Metaphor Strengths: 1) Offers new understandings of the nature and source of change. 2) Offers new horizons of thought that can be used to enrich our understanding of management. 3) Leaders and managers gain a powerful new perspective on their role in facilitating emergent change. Limitations: 1) Offers powerless power – no control for managers. Organizations as Instruments of Domination When we view organizations as systems that exploit their employees, the natural environment, and the global economy for their own ends, we are led to a powerful critique of management through history: 1) Attention to the process of domination underlying organized activity. 2) Workaholism and social/mental stress is the price inflicted on one group in service to another. 3) Global corporations exploitation of people and resources – what British Prime Minister, Edward Heath, once described as “the ugly face” of organizational life. Max Weber outlined 3 types of domination: 1) Charismatic, 2) Traditional (rule is inherited), 3) Rational-legal Arthur Miller’s play “Death of a Salesman” is an example of how organizations consume and exploit their employees. Strengths and Limitations of the Domination Metaphor Strengths: 1) Shows rationality is a mode of domination. 2) The ideological and ethical aspects of organization become central concerns. 3) We see domination may be intrinsic to organization. 4) It provides a way of turning the tables on existing power struggles. 5) Provides and understanding why the history of organization has been so conflict prone. 6) Provides a deeper appreciation of corporate responsibilty. Limitations: 1) The metaphor can add to the polarization between social groups if interpreted as an aim instead of unintentional. 2) It can lead to the blame of decision makers rather than seeing it as the logic of the whole system that needs to be addressed. 3) The focus on systemic patterns of domination can lead us to overlook opportunities for creating non-dominating forms of organization. 4) Sometimes it is seen as being too extreme. Implications for Practice: Using Metaphor to Negotiate the Demands of a Paradoxical World Morgan suggests how to reflect on organizational structure: 1) A diagnostic reading – strive to gain as comprehensive of an understanding as possible (keeping an open mind – hearkens non-judgemental feedback). 2) Critical evaluation – that integrates key insights. We can use each of the metaphors to create a storyline of organizational life. There can be a dominant frame/metaphor with supporting frames/metaphors.
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