An eager student asked me, why should we study organizations? My answer was because they are large, medium and small contexts in which we exist and respond and which we adapt to in varying degrees or leave. Population growth and relative progress have resulted in an organizational population explosion. This factor contributes to the growing influence of organizations in our lives. We are members of multiple organizations and are influenced by the activities in organizations in which we are not members.
As an example of the growing importance of organizations consider the evolution of service organizations. During the early years of the 20th century in Puerto Rico the family or small groups of families carried out must of the functions now entrusted to a collection of individuals we call organizations. Health care, schooling, food production and preparation, dispute adjudication, manufacture of household good, care and protection of aged, and even care of those unable to care for themselves were functions assumed by family members.
When the nationís economy developed to the point at which families were able to live above subsistence level, it was feasible and more efficient to entrust many of these activities to loose organization had as much authority as the families in their communities allowed them. Abdication enabled people to exchange money for time and energy and left them free to engage in more pleasurable pursuits. The result was the gradual increase in authority, autonomy, and power assumed by members of different kinds of organizations.
Another reason for diagnosing organizations is that it has practical value. Most of us work in organizations. Knowledge about how the individual activities fit into the total scheme of those organizations is helpful if we are to survive and increase our levels of performance. By using this kind of knowledge, we are able to change our responses to one or another feature of our workplaces to obtain a better fit between ourselves and our organizations. It is a good idea to know something with a better intellectual foundation about the kinds of problems we might face at work.
One perspective is to recognize situations in which people are likely to fail. Then people are taught either to avoid such situations or try to change their environments to make them resemble situations in which they are likely to succeed. To understand how the environment in general, and organizations in particular, constrain what people do, exhaustive research of mechanisms by which environmental and organizational characteristics are generally translated into responses is essential.
Yet another reason for assessing organizations is to understand the interdependence of organizations and individuals. Organizations are interdependent. That is why nothing comes out perfectly the way one wants it to be. As interrelationships and interdependencies become increasingly pervasive members of those organizations feel impotent to the point of despair. Thus we donít have any other intelligent option, but to try to learn the mechanisms through which interactions of individuals representing different organizations influence other people.
Organizational decision makers have considerable influence on members of the organizations and possibly even on members of other organizations, and organizational characteristics, policies, and standard operating procedures likewise have great influence on people. In turn, people respond to those influences possibly by changing organizations.
Organizational scientists should observe, quantity, qualify, compare and explain regularities in responses of individuals and units in organizational contexts. To the extent to which researches can cause response regularities to occur by manipulating situations and can generalize from particular observations, making predictions about the unobserved construct and processes is a very useful undertaking. Also, it is necessary to observe and explain irregularities, deviances and absences of consistencies in responses to understand what it takes to achieve normality and high performance. A final word of alertness. Since discovery means a departure from existing knowledge, managers will always have to expand their knowledge, about organizational dynamics, to move away from conventions and status quo, moving to less traveled roads that facilitate learning and understanding of new and complex realities.
Copyright 2003 QBS, Inc.