Our contemporary commercial world is based on the function of organizations. Producing and sales companies, health associations, financial institutions, activities for public transport, all essential for how we live our daily lives. Scott and Davis (2007, p.11) explains an organization as ”a social structure created by individuals to support the collaborative pursuit of specific goals”. An organization may therefore differ depending on factors such as what kind of business operated, the management and the employees in the organization, how the organizational culture looks like and how you relate to the outside world. An organization adapts to standards but is also involved in creating and recreating them (Scott & Davis, 2007).
Organizations and organizing are two closely related concepts. On the one hand there is a general sociological tradition of striving for social order (Cooren, Kuhn, Cornelissen & Clark, 2011), and one specific quest for organizing within organizations to collaboratively to pursue their specific objectives. How then can we understand how an organization is coordinated and structured? By looking at the organizational history and the standards prevailing in society, we can better grasp what has shaped today’s organizations and their coordination of the work environment and employees.
illustration by Arunas Kacinskas
The history and creation of norms as factors
With industrialization organizations became central in the community and hence the organization of employees. Based on this type of producing industrial operations with a clear division of responsibilities between skilled and unskilled staff, a former military function developed to a rational norm of organizing where efficiency, clear goal focus, formality, authority and control, were the core ideas (Scott & Davis, 2007). The Hawthorne-studies showed that individual workers did not act as rational economic actors, but were driven as much by emotions and perceptions, and that their behavior came from membership in social groups (ibid; Wren & Bedeian, 2009). The ”Hawthorne effect” demonstrates how the rational perspective is missing a human element in its belief in a particular outcome, namely human complexity.
Although communication was not in focus the above organization perspective of course created effects. Glausers (1984) meta study of research argues that much of the relevant information needed to make management decisions are in lower organizational levels of the organization, and that the dissemination of it upward in the organization is essential for an efficient operation. Glauser (ibid, p 614) points out that ”Several constraints inherent in organisations make sending information up the hierarchy more difficult than sending it horizontally or downward”. The hierarchical model involves fewer individuals higher up in the organization, which means a structural problem to move the information up, and even if all the information has spread upward managers don’t have the cognitive capacity to process all the information. Moreover, this organizational ideology that managers have a command and control while subordinates follow directives and rewarded accordingly, may create a reluctance among managers to listen to information coming from below, and involve employees who do not see the sense of conveying information upstream (Glauser, 1984).
illustration by Hólmsteinn Kristjansson
An advanced perspective on organizations and organizing is seen in line with the open perspective where organizations no longer are viewed as self-contained units from its environment (Scott & Davis, 2007). The perspective on how institutions with its rules and norms alters the behavior of individuals has evolved into what is today called a new institutionalist perspective (see among others DiMaggio & Powell, 1991; Sutton, 1996; Merkelsen, 2000). A central concept is isomorphism, which means that organizations tend to be alike by imitation in a quest to be perceived as legitimate by its stakeholders (Cornelissen, 2011: DiMaggio & Powell, 2004). It acts by a ”rational myth” (Scott & Davis, 2007, p 262) that presents mechanisms as rational but which may equally well be counterproductive. For example, Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is seen as a way to advantageously position yourself in the market against competing players, but the more that adapts the same strategy in their quest for legitimacy competitive advantages disappear.