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You will probably be aware that a feature of the study of management and organisational behaviour is the invariable difficulty in identifying a single solution to a particular problem. The absence of one, right answer can make study of the subject complex and frustrating; but the area of study can also be interesting and challenging, stimulating creative thought and ideas, and it can be related to your own work experience. A useful model for the study of management and organisational behaviour is to see the organisation as an open system (see Chapter 4). The open system approach views the organisation within its broader, external environment and places emphasis on multiple channels of interaction. It provides a means of viewing the total organisation and of embracing different dimensions of analysis. The open system model provides a perspective for a managerial approach to organisational behaviour. It helps in the search for the most appropriate ways of influencing the behaviour of people within an organisational setting. In the study of management and organisational behaviour you will come across many theories. However, you should not be put off by the use of the word ‘theory’. Most rational decisions are based on some form of theory. Theory contains a message on how managers might behave. This will influence attitudes towards management practice and lead to changes in actual patterns of behaviour. Theory helps in building generalised models applicable to a range of organisations or situations. It further provides a conceptual framework and gives a perspective for the practical study of the subject. Thus theory and practice are inseparable. Together they lead to a better understanding of factors influencing patterns of behaviour in work organisations and applications of the process of management.16 However, to be of any help to the practising manager, theory has to be appropriate. For example, Lee refers to:
... the danger of adopting theories because they are teachable, rather than because they are effective ... (however) without appropriate theory, there would be very little communication of the insights of scientific theory to practising managers.17
Although it is not always easy to establish their exact origins, ideas do percolate through to best practice.18 Patching suggests that all managers who think about what they do are practical students of organisational theory.
Theory is not something unique to academics, but something we all work with in arriving at our attitudes, beliefs and decisions as managers. It seems obvious to most of us that some theories are better than others. Many managerial discussions which we undertake in meetings focus upon trying to agree upon which theory will be best for a particular decision.19
Case studies are increasingly popular as a part of the study of management and organisational behaviour. According to Mumford, the case method is, with the exception of lectures, clearly the most widely used method in management education. 21 There are a variety of types of case studies and they may be presented in a number of different ways. Case studies range from, for example, a brief account of events which may be actual, contrived or a combination of both; ‘armchair’ cases based on hypothetica l but realistic situations, and developed to draw out and illustrate particular points of principle; to complex, multi-dimensional cases giving a fuller descriptive account of actual situations in real organisations. The term ‘case study’ may be extended t o include critical incident analysis, role-play and the in-tray (or in-basket) exercise, although these are more methods of training. A case study may require you to work on an individual basis or it may involve group work. It may also specify that you are to assume a particular role, for example as a senior or departmental manager or consultant.