Organizational Metaphor Analysis

Since the industrial revolution most businesses view themselves through a mechanistic lens. The machine view of organizations highlights several characteristics.

  • There are given goals, direction and strait forward tasks to perform
  • A rational structure of jobs and activities.  In machines they call this a blueprint.  In organizations we call it an organizational chart.
  • Everyone is expected to act in predetermined way.  In organizations we call these job descriptions.
  • There is a strong bond between cause and effect.  For instance, dropping sales is due to product changes.
  • The organization favors precision and efficiency.

The mechanical view of organizations has provided valuable insights while at the same time created blindspots, limited choices, and the ability to overcome obstacles.  Multiple organizational views create more possibilities, strategic options, and invite creativity.

Intention: This exercise looks at an organization from multiple angles using the power of metaphor.

Directions: Think about your organization as we introduce two common metaphors.

Machines: Most businesses view themselves through a mechanical frame of reference.

  • In what way does your organization operate as a machine?
  • What type of machine might it be?
  • What characteristics does it have?
  • How do you approach situations in a mechanical way?

Take a few minutes write down your thoughts.

Organism: Many businesses also view themselves through an organic frame.

  • In what ways does your organization act organically?
  • What organic characteristics does it have?
  • What type of environment does it live in?
  • How does the organization approach situations in an organic way?

Take a few minutes write down your thoughts.

Debrief:

  • What did you learn about your organization?
  • What was surprising?
  • How will you use this knowledge?
  • What insights do you have now that you did not have before?

Common characteristics of organic organizations are…

  • The organization understands itself as a cluster of interconnected human, business, and technical needs.
  • Different “species” need different types of environments.  For instance management, designers, and production staff are different types of people with separate needs.
  • There is integration and differentiation. In other words there is no one best way to organize, therefore different departments or organizations may be organized in completely different ways.

Please, send us feedback or contact us if you would like to learn more about how Joey Pauley Consulting can help creative thinking  transform your organization. For instance, what if your organization was viewed as brain or a culture, such as Patagonia. These exercises are most beneficial when carried out in groups and accompanied by a skilled facilitator.

Summary

Gareth Morgan’s book Images in Organizations offers several metaphoric frames, such as organizations as brains, cultures, and political systems.  Each of these frames or points of reference opens possibilities and ways of thinking in new creative ways.  For instance, several implications of applying  organic and mechanical metaphors are listed below. However, we are not limited to these metaphors.  In our workshops we ask you to explore your own metaphors in order to enhance your view of the organization.

Mechanical Metaphor Organic Metaphor
– If there is a stable predictable environment and a constant demand for the same product these organizations are very successful.- In a constantly changing marketplace they have difficulty adapting to change.

– Employees like to have strait forward tasks so they know what is expected of them. They also know what is not expected of them. Many times you will hear people say “that is his responsibility not mine.”

– Machine organizations are designed to achieve predetermined goals. They are not designed for innovation.

– Organizations are open to challenges.- They must pay attention to their environment because congruence with external environment is a key task.

– Survival and evolution are paramount.

– All of the parts must work for the good of the whole otherwise if one part fails it sabotages the other parts.

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