Learning in a Mechanistic Organization

MECHANISTIC ORGANIZATIONS Metaphors create a method of thinking, it compares items of deferent characteristic showing similarities but not differences, recently shadow chancellor George Osborne criticising Gordon Brown, he said ’Gordon is a man with an overdraft, not a plan’ (Metro, October 28, 2008). Here we can see that the word overdraft is used to describe some of the present characteristics of Gordon Brown in relation to spending.

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Various metaphors have been used by different writers to show the structure of organisations, examples include: machine, organismic and brain metaphor as used by “Morgan in Images of organisation”, I shall be talking more of machine metaphor in this easy. Bureaucracy is the term used to describe organisation that operates as if they are machine. Wikipedia. rg defines Bureaucracy “as the structure and set of regulations in place to control activity, usually in large organisations and government” I will love to refer to bureaucracy as doing as you are told without asking questions, just follow instructions and laid down procedures. Machine organisations have hierarchical structure, and information flow mainly from the top to other parts. Employees are not empowered to take decisions, they are expected to obey and carry out order. Workers feelings and needs are not considered, achievement of set goals is paramount.

In machine like organisations learning is only one sided and not an organisation wide commitment. The origin of mechanistic organisation can be traced back to Frederick the Great of Prussia (1740) work transformed the army by introducing many reforms and very stringent rule and regulations that must be obeyed without questioning thereby creating a machine like army. Adam smith, (1776) praised division of Labour at work and increased specialisation Max Weber another management theorist supported the mechanisation of organisations.

He is known as the father of bureaucracy. Henry Fayol, and other classical management theorist including F. W. Mooney and Col. Lyndall Urwick, They believe that management is a process of planning, organisation, commanding, coordination and control. (Morgan 1997) Fredrick Taylor, another management theorist invented the principle of scientific management showing five simple management principles: 1. Shift all responsibility for the organisation of work from the worker to the manager. Managers think, plan, and design work, while the workers does the implementation, 2.

Use scientific method to determine the most efficient way of doing work. Design worker’s task accordingly, specifying the precise way in which the work is to be done, 3. Select the best person to perform the job thus designed, 4. Train the worker to do the work effectively, 5. Monitor worker performance to ensure that appropriate work procedures are followed and that appropriate results are achieved. (Morgan 1997) McDonalds, Burger King, Greggs, and most fast-food outlets are perfect examples of Taylor’s principles.

Other examples include car / automobile manufacturing companies like: Honda, Toyota, Ford, Mitsubishi, London borough of Hammersmith and Fulham, British high commission in Nigeria, etc Mechanistic forms of organisation have many advantages and some very serious disadvantages. Organisations such as McDonald’s DHL, Ford, FEDEX, aircraft maintenance departments, finance offices (HM customs inland revenue) are good examples of the success of mechanistic model of organisation.

The advantages of mechanistic organisation will include the fact that It designs task to be performed on a straightforward bases, very effective in stable environment, encourages mass production (that is producing exactly the same product repeatedly), and allows for precision of work. Despite the above advantages, Morgan 1997, found that mechanistic model are difficult to adapt to changing circumstances (not innovative), Can become bureaucratic, Can lead to clash of interest, and Can be very dehumanising.

In my view mechanistic organisation does not encourage learning and learning can only be effective when individuals and group in organisation are encouraged and empowered to thing and take informed decisions as required in their day to day work. Bertalanffy started the idea of viewing organisation as organism (living thing), examples of the use of organic metaphor to understand organisational behaviour include: “Corporate DNA” (Baskin, 1998), the notion of a “living company” (de Geus, 1997), attempt by Microsoft to develop “digital nervous system” (Gates, 1999) and Generic algorithms for process management (Husbands, 1994).

In comparism with mechanistic metaphor, the organismic organisation is adaptable to changing environmental factors, allows the full use of human potentials, jobs are designed to encourage personal growth and responsibility, decision making process is decentralised and communications flows throughout the organisation. Organismic model view organisation as an open system in constant exchange with the environment, hence organisations can learn effectively from the environment by monitoring changes in the environment and redesigning its offering in other to remain competitive (survival).

Example Tesco store as an open system must be in constant touch with the environment in other to find out (by conducting research) the changes in taste of its customer and designing a means to march these change by supplying needed goods and services. The human brain is divided into compartment and it is highly sophisticated flexible, resilient and very inventive. In comparing organisations with the brain, Morgan point out that organisational survival and functioning depends on the processing of information.

The aim of liking an organisation to the brain is to encourage managers to structure organisation to be able to learn as fast as the brain. This brings me to the idea of a learning organisation, Peter Senge (1990) identified five disciplines of a learning organisation: System think, Personal mastery, mental models, Building a shared vision, and Team learning. Workers are encourage to thing of the whole system instead of their individual job, this kind of activity will encourage team building and the sharing of knowledge as most of the knowledge in organisation rest in individual minds (tacit knowledge).

Cybernetic theories believe that a learning organisation should have the capacity to scan and anticipate change in the wider environment to detect significant variations, develop an ability to question, challenge, and change operating norms and assumptions, allow an appropriate strategic direction and pattern of organisation to emerge, be skilled in double-loop learning, to avoid, getting trapped in single-loop processes, especially those created by traditional management control systems and the defensive routines of organisational members (Morgan, 1997).

From the foregoing I will conclude by the fact that the structure of an organisation will affect the level of learning that can be achieved and since it has been establishes that for organisations to survive and remain competitive the rate of learning must be greater or equal to the level of activities in the environment (Ravans, 1992), it is therefore recommended that organisation should be structured in the form that achieves the highest possible learning bearing in mind that there is no one best structure of an organisation it all depends on the nature of its operations and the environment. REFERENCES: Burns, T. and G. M.

Stalker, The Management of Innovation. London: Tavistock, 1961 Chris Argris. Organisational learning, Blackwell publishers Inc. 1992 David Buchannan and Huczynski, Organisation Behaviour: an introductory text, 3rd edition, 1997 Derek Rollinson. Aysen Broadfield, David J. Edwards, Organisational Behaviour and Analysis, 1998 Gareth Morgan, Images of Organisation, Sage Publications, India. 1997 Ivancevich Matteson, Organisational Behaviour and Management, 5th edition, 1999 Robert Kreitner and Angelo Kinicki, Organisational Behaviour, 2nd edition, 2002 Ralph D. Stacey, Strategic Management and Organisational Dynamics, 3rd edition, 2000


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