Organizing & Organizations
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Organizing & Organizations

Stephen Fineman, Yiannis Gabriel, David Sims

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eBook - ePub

Organizing & Organizations

Stephen Fineman, Yiannis Gabriel, David Sims

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About This Book

Organizing and Organizations is well loved by students and lecturers for its accessible, conversational tone and insightful real-life examples introducing the study of organizations and organizational behaviour. Fineman, Gabriel and Sims, eminent academics in the field, cover a wealth of key concepts, research and literature leaving students informed and engaged.

The Fourth Edition builds on the strengths of previous editions, to provide you with a textbook that continues to stand out from the rest. This new edition has been fully developed to include:

- New chapters on Influence and Power, and Innovation and Change.

- A new section within each chapter that highlights the theoretical links informing the chapters.

- New review questions to test and apply your understanding of the ideas in each chapter.

- New ?reading on? sections that direct you to free links to highly recommended journal articles relating to each chapter?s coverage, and found on the companion website.

- New critical review questions at the end of each chapter to encourage debate.

- Each chapter is now enlivened with pictorial illustrations.

- A fully updated glossary of key concepts in the study of organizations

Organizing and Organizations integrates a strong critical approach throughout.

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What is an organization? Everyone knows: universities, airlines, chemical plants, supermarkets, government departments. These are all organizations. Some have been around for a long time, employing numerous people across many continents – Microsoft, Shell, McDonald’s, Toyota. Others are smaller, locally based – a school, a family-owned restaurant, a small consulting firm, a pottery.
Organizations enter our lives in different ways: we work for them, we consume their products, we see buildings which house their offices, we read about them in the newspapers and absorb their advertisements. When we look at organizations, especially the larger, older, famous ones, they seem solid, they seem permanent, they seem orderly. This is, after all, why we call them organizations. Images of organizations as solid, permanent, orderly entities run through many textbooks. But, in our view, these books tell only half the story. They obscure the other half: the life and activity that buzzes behind the apparent order. Sometimes this bursts into view, revealing chaos even – such as when computer systems break down, when there is delay or accident on an airline, when products are sent to the wrong destinations or when bookings are made for the wrong dates. They also obscure the immense human efforts and energies that go into keeping organizations more or less orderly.
In this book, our focus is not on ‘organization’ but ‘organizing’ – the activities and processes of doing things in organizations. We do not take organization for granted; after all, many large and well-known organizations have faded or died for one reason or another. Instead, we focus on the processes of organizing and being organized. We highlight the activities which go on in organizations. We look at our emotions, the stories and gossip which we trade, the deals we strike, the games we play and the moral dilemmas we face when in organizations.
Organizations get likened to many things – machines, armies, garbage cans, theatrical plays, the human body, and so on. We find the analogy of a river helpful. Like a river, an organization may appear static and calm if viewed on a map or from a helicopter. But this says little about those who are actually on or in the moving river, whether swimming, drowning or safely ensconced in boats. Our aim in this book is to highlight the experiences of those people who actually know and understand the river well, to present their stories and learn from their adventures. We are hoping that the images of organization which we generate have more in common with the moving, changing, living river than with the tidy lines of a map.
You probably know far more than you think. If you have been formally employed, you have already peeped behind the organizational screen; felt what it is like to be told what to do or to tell others what to do; to do boring or exciting work; to sink into mundane routine or cope with unexpected crises and problems; to interact with a wide range of people; to daydream; to see inefficiency around you; to try and meet deadlines; to feel stress; to experience elation and excitement; to see how differently different managers do their work; to give and receive help from others … If you have not had a job, you have been part of organizing in project groups at school, sports meetings, family holidays, Christmas dinners, pub crawls, cinema outings with friends, trips to clubs and so forth. You do not have to have had a leadership role in these to be part of organizing, and already to know, through experience, what seems to operate successfully and what seems to fail. Trust these experiences; they are very important. Use them actively as you read this book; build on them with the concepts, stories and studies that we relate to you.
In this book, organizing is treated as a continuous set of activities. We all have different perceptions of, and tolerances for, disorder – revealed classically in the contrast between a teenager’s view of a ‘tidy’ bedroom and that of his/her parents. In work settings, ‘getting organized’ means different things to different people. Some people seem to operate effectively for years in offices with papers and files strewn all over the place, using their memory as a diary. When challenged about the apparent chaos, they will usually retort that it is fine for them, as long as no one else moves things around.
But not all of us find organizing easy or agreeable. This is how Bill, a manager, described his ‘typical day’:


Getting organized is something that I don’t find easy. I have in front of me a book called Get Yourself Organized offered by a friend, who was perhaps trying to give me a hint. It looks appealing; it looks sensible. It is written in clear type, with a bold ‘key message’ printed on every other page:
  • Decide on your major priorities.
  • Put a timescale and deadline on each priority.
  • If you can do it today, do it!
  • Who do you need to contact to make things happen?
  • Interruptions – avoid them!
  • At the end of the day, leave your desk clear.
Well, I kept a diary of some of the things that happened to me the other day. Here are some snippets:
It’s 7.30 in the morning and I’m driving to work, the loose ends of yesterday still in my head. I’ve got a 9.30 meeting with the strategy committee and I’m not looking forward to it. I need to get my ideas straight on how we market the new truck, or I know John will screw me and get the cash for his new project … Mobile rings. It’s my secretary, Alice – have I remembered the lunch meeting with Dr Hosikkii from our Japanese subsidiary? I’d totally forgotten about it.
At my desk and a screen full of emails. I’ll answer the important-looking ones first. Bill phones; he urgently wants to see me before the 9.30 meeting … He comes in, looks awful. He tells me he needs a few days off because his son’s very ill. Of course, he must go home, but how am I going to manage with him away?
I’m ten minutes late for the meeting; I feel embarrassed and the Chief Executive looks disapproving … It’s a tense meeting but I seem to have at least one ally – Jean from Sales. I can trust her, but it’s Alan from Production who I can’t figure out. Sometimes he’s with me, sometimes he’s really obstructive. I must take him out for a drink and have a bit of a chat…
The meeting breaks up and I take the opportunity to walk back with the Chief Executive. I explain my lateness and manage to get him to hear my plans for shifting the staff around in my section and the problem of overload. At least he didn’t say a new appointment was out of the question…
Back to my office and Alice looks tense. The main computer is down and we need the financial forecasts for the annual report. I phone Helen in Accounts – she’s helped me in the past. Meanwhile a call-waiting from Germany on the spec for the new truck. They need to go to press on it this week. I’m really angry with the agency who were supposed to coordinate this. I phone them and lay it on the line. They cost us a small fortune; I’m going to have to look around for a new agency…
A good lunch with Hosikkii; I realize now that I’m going to have to visit him in Tokyo much sooner than I thought. It’s an exhausting journey and I can’t stay away more than three days. I’m away from my kids yet again…
2.15 pm. The Chief Executive calls me – I’ve won! Great! Not only will I get what I wanted for marketing the truck, but I can also hire a new assistant. Sometimes I love this job … I tell Alice to pass the news around. I dash over to Mark’s office and congratulate him. He persuaded me in the first place to increase our bid.
I stop at Brenda’s desk in the big, open-plan office. ‘I know you want something from me’, she says, ‘that’s the only reason you ever visit me’. ‘How can you say that!’, I reply, sounding offended. She’s right, of course. I ask her if she has any advance news on the customer survey we conducted last month. She feigns ignorance, and then slips me a computer print-out from her draw. ‘I need this back today, please; it’s red hot.’
I find a quiet corner to hide and read the report. Wow! Two of our products have done disastrously. We are going to need a completely revised PR plan. Is that why the Chief Executive’s been so accommodating? More work for me? Alice bleeps me. Says I need to call Eric. I call right away. Never keep your Director waiting. He wants me to stand in for him at an executive meeting tomorrow because ‘something’s come up’. I dutifully agree; I bet it’s the customer survey stuff. But it also means cancelling the appraisal interview I’m doing on Marcus. He’ll get even more stressed now. I’ll get Alice to make my excuses.
Two more meetings. The first is terminally tedious: a presentation from a consultant on a computer information system. He couldn’t sell me a washing machine. Fortunately, I’m interrupted, with a query over the copy on our new trade brochures – are we being sexist? The second was an hour with a research student from a university who was looking at marketing in the automotives sector. She actually had some thought-provoking questions; it’s a shame I couldn’t give her more time. And it was hardly quality time – my phone rang four times, each time with someone wanting an instant decision or opinion.
4.00 pm already. Grab a coffee. Meet Jane at the machine. Had I heard that Martin was leaving? No, I hadn’t. It’s rumoured that he’s got a plum job in Wales with one of our competitors. ‘More re-organization for us’, I quipped. The rest of the afternoon I found I couldn’t get Martin’s leaving out of my head. Maybe that’s just what I should do…
It’s 6.15 pm and things, at last, have quietened down. I’ll see what’s left of the emails and what new messages there are. Oh yes, I must get the agenda for tomorrow’s executive meeting, otherwise I’ll look a prat. ‘Alice, are you still there …?’
They must be joking!
Organizing, in this account, involves tensions, preferences, interruptions, politics, power and personalities. Maybe Bill could have been a better organizer, but his account chimes with what we know about the experienced realities of managing. It is often a whirl of activity; quick switches from one issue to another; gossip and speculation; people dependent on each other; bargaining and compromise; developing contacts and friends; reconciling work pressures with domestic demands; time is always precious. The picture of the cool, rational thinker, quietly planning the day, is a myth.
The process of organizing defies tidy, universal, categories. As consumers (customers, students, passengers and so on), we take for granted that things will get done. Lectures, meetings, examinations, happen. Individual and group effort come together to create the hard product – the car, mobile phone, DVD player, pen, paper; or the service – delivering a meal, cutting hair, preaching a sermon, policing a city, running a train. We hardly bother with the organizing processes behind these events. The struggles, politics, negotiations, anguish and joys of actual organizing remain, for the most part, invisible to the consumer: they are back stage. When they are inadvertently revealed, showing how precarious organization can be, it can come as something of a shock – as the following tale from of one us reveals:


Once I was booking tickets for a family holiday at a local, family-run, travel agent. They were busy, and I queued for a long time. Eventually, I was served by an elderly gentleman who was having difficulty matching the glossy brochure packages with the figures on his computer screen. He got very confused – neither the dates nor the prices seemed to match the published details. The queues behind me were growing ever longer. The staff were getting hopelessly overloaded and stressed. The tension was growing, but, like good British customers, no one in the queue complained. The breaking point came with a loud, sharp, whisper from a younger, female, member of staff to the man who was serving me:
‘For Christ’s sake, give it up, Dad! He only wants a flight reservation; it’s not worth our trouble.’
The man turned on her immediately and retorted, through clenched teeth:
‘How dare you! A customer is a customer; that’s what we’re here for!’
He then proceeded to tell me that ‘they only tolerated him in the shop at weekends now’ and they had their ‘differences of opinion’.
Some of the entrails of the organization had suddenly been revealed. I had seen something I should not have seen, and I was uncomfortable. I did not want to witness a row or receive a confession – I wanted a family holiday! I now mistrusted the service. I could not play my customer role properly if they did not play out their role as ‘travel agents’.
I decided to go elsewhere.
When we get close to the experience of people organizing, there is the impression of a lot of personal and interpersonal work going on. In the above exchange, the protagonists were not just observing or responding to each other’s actions; they were also making judgements and creating meanings for themselves.
Seen through the eyes of different individuals, what happened may have seemed very different. Each may have told a different story about what ‘really’ happened. For example:
  • the elderly gentleman’s story: ‘customers were happy to queue for personal, caring service’
  • his daughter’s: ‘customers were in a hurry, dear old dad all at sea’
  • the story-teller’s: ‘customer pressure reveals cracks in the organization’
  • other customers’: ‘incompetent travel agents’; ‘rude young people’; ‘poorly organized office’.
The meaning of the incident is not obvious. Even the meaning of particular words or sentences may be ambiguous. ‘It’s not worth our trouble’ could be interpreted as a personal insult, or as an expression of frustration with dad – or with customers in general. ‘A customer is a customer’ could be taken as a brave assertion of good old-fashioned service. But in this case, what about all the customers waiting? Does their inconvenience count for nothing? Alternatively, it m...

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