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Morgan, Images of Organizations (XXI)

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Matt Domsalla

SAASS 601/10

Images of Organization Precis

In Images of Organization, York University (Toronto) business professor Gareth Morgan examines how different metaphors give rise to different theories of organization and management, how an understanding of the process can help us master the strengths and limitations of different viewpoints, and how we can use this knowledge to become more effective leaders and managers. Morgan postulates that all organization and management theories are based on implicit metaphors or images that lead us to see, understand, and manage organizations in distinctive yet partial ways. For Morgan, any theory or perspective that we bring to the study of organization and management, while capable of creating valuable insights, is also incomplete, biases, and potentially misleading. Morgan examines eight images of the organization – organizations as machines, organizations as organisms, organizations as brains, organizations as cultures, organizations as political systems (interests, conflicts, and power plays), organizations as psychic prisons, organizations as flux and transformation (chaos), and organizations as instruments of domination. Morgan then examines how the metaphor may be utilized as a tool for improving our ability to see, understand, and interpret key aspects of organizational life. Finally, Morgan examines the broader implications of managing in a turbulent world.

Organizations as Machines

· “Organizations that are designed and operated as if they were machines are now usually called bureaucracies.” (13)

· The basic thrust of classical management theory is that “management is a process of planning, organization, command, coordination, and control.” (18)

· “The classical theorists sought to ensure when commands were issued from the top of the organization they would travel throughout the organization in a precisely determined way to create a precisely determined effect.” (21)

· “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 a manner as possible.” (22)

· Scientific management theory is premised on five basic principles: 1) shift all responsibility for the organization of work from the worker to the manager, 2) use scientific methods to determine the most efficient way of doing work, 3) select the best person to perform the job thus desired, 4) train the worker to do the work efficiently, and 5) monitor work performance. (23)

Organizations as Organisms

· “Certain species of organization are better “adapted” to specific environmental conditions than others. Bureaucratic organizations then to work most effectively in environments that are stable or protected in some way and that very different species are found in more competitive and turbulent regions, such as the environments of high-tech firms.” (33)

· “Different technologies impose different demands on individuals and organization that have to be meet through appropriate structure.” (47)

· “The task of successful organizational change and development thus often hinges on bringing variable into closer alignment so that the organization can meet the challenges and opportunities posed by the environment.” (58)

Organizations as Brains

· “The brain as a system engages in an incredibly diverse set of parallel activities that make complementary and competing contributions to what eventually emerges as a coherent pattern.” (75)

· “If these four conditions (ability to sense, monitor, and scan; relate the information to the operating norms; detect deviations; initiate corrective action) are satisfied, a continuous process of information exchange is created between a system and its environment, allowing the system to monitor changes and initiate appropriate responses.” (83)

· “Ringi is a collective decision-making process through which companies seek to test the robustness of policy initiatives and other development…When the decision is made, one can be fairly certain that key assumptions will have been challenged and that most errors will have been detected and corrected.” (94)

· “The ringi serves the dual function of allowing people to challenge core operating principles and in both the process and the outcome, to affirm and reaffirm the values that are to guide action. Paradoxically, it is a process that mobilizes disagreement to create consensus.” (95)

Organizations as Psychic Prisons

· “This metaphor joins the idea that organizations are ultimately created and sustained by conscious and unconscious processes, with the notion that people can actually become imprisoned in or confined by the images, ideas, thoughts, and actions to which these processes give rise.” (207)

· “These metaphors encourage us to become more sensitive about the hidden meaning of our everyday actions and preoccupations and to learn how we can process and transform our unconscious energy in constructive ways.” (234)

The Challenge of Metaphors

· “Different metaphors have a capacity to tap different dimensions of a situation, showing how different qualities can coexist.” (338)

· “We tend to find and realize what we are looking for…It is just that reality has a tendency to reveal itself in accordance with the perspectives through which it is engaged.” (339)

· “Limit your thinking and you will limit your range of action.” (340)

Reading and Shaping Organizational Life

· “The ability to ‘read’ and understand what is happening is one’s organization is a key managerial competence.” (345)

· “If we dwell on the impossibility of achieving an all-embracing understanding or comprehensive insight, we will surely be depressed and overwhelmed. But if we turn the problem around and focus on what can be achieved by refining our interpretive skills, a much more positive message emerges.” (362)


· “In times of change it is vital to be in touch with the assumptions and theories that are guiding our practice and to be able to shape and reshape them for different ends.” (364)

· “Managers at all levels must gain comfort in dealing with the insights and implications of diverse perspectives.” (365)

· “…importance of being able to ‘read’ and understand the complexity of organizational life.” (365)

· “Despite its roots in mechanistic thinking, organization is really a creative process of imaginization.” (365)


Images of Organization Gareth Morgan (2006, first ed 1986)

Morgan writes book to corporate, business audience to explore/develop ability to read and understand organizational life. States all theories of organization & management are based on metaphors – imply a way of thinking and a way of seeing – all theory is metaphor.

Metaphor inherently paradoxical – gives powerful insights that also become distractions=seeing & not seeing

Readings covered:

- Machines (Bureaucratic) – specialization, efficiency, the person as a machine...originates with Frederick the Great in Prussia, military discipline and drill.

- Organisms – biology, species to environment. Human resources develops along Maslow hierarchy of needs, talk about adaptation through evolution. Organizational varieties.

- Brains (Learning organizations) – self-organize and evolve, decentralized, empowered employees, double loop feedback looks for why we do things, limits vs goals

- Psychic Prisons – imprisoned by thoughts, conscious and unconscious thought (psychology) Can create blind spots (one example groupthink) focus on below the line culture/resistance

Albert Einstein “it is the theory through which we observe a situation that decides what we can observe.” Metaphors lead to thought and interact with how I am reading a situation. Best practice is to use multiple metaphors to read a situation – a dominate frame w/ several subframes

Helps to challenge assumptions and inject discipline into thinking.

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