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Management: perspective and practice
Management: perspective and practice

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2.1 Organisational context

No one can avoid experiencing organisations. From the moment we are born and until we die our lives are governed and constrained by organisations, and almost everyone works in an organisation at some point, albeit some are very small and some very large. However, even if you operate a single person small business, you will still be part of a larger organisational network of suppliers and customers.

Although we have this all-pervading organisational experience, not very many people think deeply about how the organisational environment of work shapes and constrains the issues managers have to address. The metaphors we adopt in thinking about organisations shape the way we conceptualise the whole managerial endeavour. The dominant metaphor for organisations is of the organisation as a machine. This is a very powerful metaphor that we will explore in this chapter. This metaphor defines the central problem facing managers in organisations as one of control: controlling relationships with the external environments, such as markets or political policies, to ensure that the organisation achieves profits, or internally, ensuring that the people employed work to achieve the organisation’s mission.

You will discover as you explore the material in the first section that controlling the way the organisation works is not an easily achieved objective. Indeed, the problem of how to get workers to do what managers require is one that has vexed both academics and practitioners ever since the Industrial Revolution in the eighteenth century created factories that separated home from work. It is a problem that still concerns managers today as we talk of performance management and focus on outcomes and rewarding achievement.

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Figure 2 Domestic working
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Figure 3 Inside a Nokia factory

However, this is not the only metaphor to describe organisations, and the first part of this section will also explore alternative metaphors – particularly those of Gareth Morgan, who has written extensively on this topic. You will consider some of Morgan’s ideas about organisations to help you ‘read’ your own organisation more effectively and therefore understand it better.

During the course of this section you will:

  • explore a number of theories and concepts about organisations and relate these to your own experience
  • examine issues about how organisations are structured and the consequences of this
  • identify and consider the factors that shape organisations and create the ‘uniqueness’ of the organisation.