My View: What is an Organization Running head: MY VIEW: WHAT IS AN ORGANIZATION?


My View: What is an Organization? Why Study Organization Theory? Dian Hauser Emporia State University

My View: What is an Organization


Abstract During the course, LI805 Organization Theories for Administering Information, I formulated a new definition of organizations using class materials and activities. The text Organization Theory: Modern, Symbolic, and Postmodern Perspectives by Mary Jo Hatch, with Ann L. Cunliffe, (2006) was used as a guideline in creating the definition. The benefits of studying organizational theory were also explored. These benefits included a more expansive worldview, and a larger repertoire of problem solutions— thanks largely to Symbolic-interpretivist and Postmodern theories. Another benefit of studying organization theory was that I now had a greater understanding of organizational realities presented in non-academic reading materials.

My View: What is an Organization


My View: What is an Organization? Why Study Organization Theory? Upon completing Library of Science Course 805, Organization Theories for Administering Information, I found that my definition of an organization had undergone a transformation. Previously, I considered an organization to be a business or cultural group, but I had no conception of the intricacies involved and no idea of the various frameworks for understanding organizations. The course readings and activities presented organizations as complex, organic entities. What is an Organization? The class text, Organization Theory: Modern, Symbolic, and Postmodern Perspectives (Hatch, 2006), introduced the idea that organizations were entities possessing environments, social structures, technologies, culture, and physical structures. These entities dealt with issues of power, control and conflict. The text also emphasized viewing these facets of organization through the views of three differing perspectives, Modernist, Symbolic-interpretivist and Postmodern. The reality of an organizational environment was made clear with the exercise in which each group of students had to discuss an assigned organization. As my group examined the inner workings of the Guittard Chocolate Company, we experienced the interconnectedness of “our” company with its suppliers, competitors, and purchasers. We noted that this company could not be studied apart from its surroundings. The inevitability of organizational social structure was experienced through the entertaining Adventure in the Amazon (Ukens). As our group struggled to survive in a make-believe jungle, we spontaneously adopted roles in response to the obstacles we

My View: What is an Organization


faced. A cooperative attitude evolved and community of practice developed (Hatch, 2006, p. 129). My presentation group dealt with technology in an organizational setting (Hauser, 2008). We were given the scenario of a beleaguered college library. Its home university was unsupportive and as a result technical aspects of the organization were sorely lacking. Technology, here, was closely aligned with environment. There was no core technology created within the library, and the outside environment—the university —did not deign to help improve the library’s outdated technology. Since the library was woefully dependent upon this outer source, its technical development suffered. This library scenario also gave me a good insight into organizational culture. Because the library felt threatened by its university’s culture, it created a “countercultural persona” (Hatch, 2006, p. 176). This defensive identity was detrimental to all involved. The films The Firm (Davis, 1993) and The Hunt for Red October (Neufeld, 1990) also gave impressive example of organizational culture. In the former, a sinister institution tied its employees to it in subtle and manipulative ways. The firm chose housing, cars and even careers for its employees and their families. The wives were “allowed” to work. This culture bonded the workers so strongly to the organization that they were trapped in it. The Hunt for Red October gave illustration to a more benign sense of organizational culture. The uniforms of the sailors, the slang, and—in particular—the story told to the new member of the American crew, all emphasized a cultural unity among the groups.

My View: What is an Organization The physicality of an organization consisted of more than just a building housing it. The physical structure included organizational geography, the concept that an organization might be located “in more than one location” (Hatch, 2006, p. 223). The idea of “place vs. space” looked at the emotional resonance of the organization. (p. 227). This Symbolic-interpretist concept went beyond the mere brick-and-mortar idea of an organization.


The organization was also depicted as a place of “power, control, conflict” (Hatch, 2006, p. 251). One definition of the organization was “a system of two or more persons, engaged in cooperative action, trying to reach a purpose” (Lillard, 2008, slide 2). The film 12 Angry Men dramatically emphasized this point (Fonda, 1957). The tagline for the movie was “Life is in their hands—Death is on their minds” (IMBd, 2008). One man (played by Henry Fonda), had the daunting task of changing the minds of this murdertrial jury. With his “charismatic personality,” this juror led the group to a conclusion they initially did not desire (Hatch, 2006, p. 254). Besides giving a great example of leadership, the film illustrated countless examples of conflict and resolution. The emotional ebb and flow of organizational life was well portrayed. In the preceding pages, a case was made for a complex definition of the organization. The question remaining was “Why study organization theory?” Why Study Organization Theory? Hatch wrote that her own reasons for studying organizational theory were to “broaden my perspective on organizations and the world in general and open my mind to new ideas and possibilities for change and transformation (2006, p. 16). The first part of her statement “broaden my perspective on organizations,” still begged the question, “why

My View: What is an Organization learn about organizational theory?” The rest of the statement, however, presented valid reasons for this area of study.


In this age of intolerance and mistrust among nations, anything that enlarged one’s world view was to be applauded. For the same reason, a course of study that introduced the student to “new ideas and possibilities for change and transformation,” could not be easily dismissed (Hatch, 2006, p. 16). But how could the study of organization theory accomplish these goals? For me, the most transformative sections of the Hatch text were those dealing with Symbolicinterpretist and Postmodern thought. Although at first I scoffed at the ideas generated by these perspectives, I realized that this was because the ideas were so foreign to my habitual way of thinking. I found that applying these frameworks to the various aspects of the organizational model gave new and sometimes startling insights into what had previously seemed obvious and mundane. These novel insights had a practical application. I found that I could use these new ways of looking to examine real concerns in actual organizations. While this practice was still new and unfamiliar, it was exciting to realize that present day concerns in my work environment could be viewed in a new way. The hope was, of course, that in viewing problems from a new angle, new solutions would present themselves. Another benefit of studying organizational theory was that I became more aware of the organizations around me, and more cognoscente of their structures. Suddenly, everything was gist for the mill of LI805. Business articles that, in the past, would have held little interest, now had meaning. Books about workplace ethics had a new dimension. I now read them with an awareness of the multiple layers inherent in the

My View: What is an Organization


organizational model. This new awareness of a facet of the world around me was a great benefit of studying organizational theory. Conclusion In studying organization theory, I realized that my original definition of organizations was extremely simplistic. Before taking the class, I had the most rudimentary understanding of what constituted an organization. The readings, lectures, exercises and films that comprised LI805 led me to see organizations as complex entities. Through the introduction of the Modernist, Symbolic-interpretist, and Postmodern frameworks, I was given tools to further delve into the workings of the organizational model. Studying organizational theory, gave me a new vocabulary of concepts to use in observing organizations. In practical terms, I could now begin to dissect the operational mechanisms of the organizations that I was involved in. I now had the information necessary to begin to observe problems and try to bring about solutions. Learning more about organizational theory also renewed my dormant interest in the subject. I had been reading books covering organizational subjects, but now I found this material much more nuanced. In summation, defining the myriad levels of organization theory and applying some of these concepts to the world around me, was a valuable experience. The information gathered from this class promised to have a positive effect on my future dealings with organizations of all kinds.

My View: What is an Organization References Davis, J., Pollack, S., & Rudin, S. (Producers), & Pollack, S. (Director). (1993). The firm [Motion picture]. United States: Paramount Studios Home Video. Fonda, H. & Rose, R. (Producers), & Lument, S. (Director). (1957). Twelve angry men [Motion picture]. United States: Orion-Nova Productions. Hatch, M. J. (with Cunliffe, A. L.). (2006). Organization theory: Modern, symbolic, and postmodern perspectives. (2nd ed.) New York: Oxford University Press, Inc. Hauser, D., Hutcheson, S., Mott, A., & Vildoso, M. (2008, March 1). Overland Park University. [Wiki Presentation]. Retrieved from IMDb, Internet Movie Database. 12 angry men. Retrieved March 20, 2008, from Lillard, L. L. (2008, February 1). What is an organization and why study organization theory? [PowerPoint slides.] Presented at an LI 805 lecture at Emporia State University, Overland Park Campus. Neufeld, M. (Producer), & McTiernan, J. (Director). (1990). The hunt for Red October [Motion picture]. United States: Paramount Studios Home Video. Ukens, L. L. (1998). Adventures in the Amazon. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass/Pfeiffer.