You are on page 1of 6

Hatch with Cunliffe: Organization Theory, 3rd edition, Chapter 1



To introduce class members;

To explain the purpose and approach of the course;
To introduce basic tools of organizational analysis theory and abstraction;
To introduce the three perspectives and their underlying assumptions.

Chapter 1 Teaching Notes

The introduction to the book and course is crucial, especially if students have not been
exposed to organizational theory or to a multiple perspectives approach. It is important to
spend time in the first class establishing the need for both. My experience (ALC) has been
that students are initially resistant to these ideas and to the need to study OT from a
multiple perspectives approach. Typical comments early in the course are:

- this is theoretical and has no relevance to practice so why do we have to learn it?
- why do we have to cover this postmodern stuff?
- why cant we just focus on one approach?
- so what is the right answer?

Yet by the end of the course, most students can see the practical value of course material.
Much of this depends upon grounding the material in practice (cases, examples, practical
projects, current events in the media), and on the instructors enthusiasm and persistence.

Many students at the undergraduate and Masters level think the course will be overly
theoretical, and while there is a strong theoretical base, much of the theory is based on
practitioner experience (especially classical OT) and on research carried out in
organizations. In addition, the focus of this work is to understand how organizations
function and how to design them in more effective ways. So OT is not an abstract field of
study but offers ideas, models and tools of critical importance in designing and managing
effective organizations. Students gain a very different understanding of organizations
once they are familiar with OT and the different perspectives. The Preface to the first
edition (still retained in the third edition) provides some useful material in outlining the
need for OT, as well as material in Chapter 1.

It also helps to reinforce the following points throughout the course:

Oxford University Press, 2012. All rights reserved.

Hatch with Cunliffe: Organization Theory, 3rd edition, Chapter 1

1. Why Organization Theory is important

Managers need to understand how and why organizations function the way they do in
order to diagnose problems, design and run effective organizations. Organizational
design involves creating structures and cultures that balance external and internal factors
and pressures, and allows the organization to compete by operating effectively, efficiently,
and ethically.
Effective organizational design means being able to:

Understand how the various organizational elements interact and impact

organizational performance.
Design organizational structures and systems that are responsive to environmental,
economic and social needs and provide effective, efficient, and equitable service.
Manage dynamic environments and deal with systemic problems and organizational
deficiencies by identifying design problems and restructuring organizations.
Increase efficiency and innovation.
Create more ethical and socially responsible organizations.
Create an environment where organizational members are valued, proactive, treated
equitably, utilize their potential, and are motivated.

2. Why Multiple Perspectives?

Knowledge (what we know about the world) can be obtained from direct experience or
secondary sources. Consequently it takes many different forms and can embrace
contradictory ideas and theories. The tension and interplay between these ideas and
theories can lead to different ways of seeing and thinking about situations, as well as new
forms of knowledge. The three perspectives can therefore offer a way of deepening our

Traditional management theory focuses upon formally rational methods and techniques of
organization and control: rational structures, rules, and standardization. The rational
approach has been relatively effective where the environment is stable. However, in
turbulent and dynamic environments, we require creative energy, flexibility and more
proactive modes of learning, thinking, and managing organizations. We still need the
building blocks (rational) but also to think about the world, organizations, management
and people in different ways (symbolic, postmodern).

So, multiple perspectives:

- make us more aware of our assumptions and reasoning processes; the

assumptions underlying the design and management of organizations; and

Oxford University Press, 2012. All rights reserved.

Hatch with Cunliffe: Organization Theory, 3rd edition, Chapter 1

the impact of those assumptions as a basis for creating more ethical and
responsive ways of managing organizations.
- can help us analyse complicated situations and figure out ways of dealing
with them.
- offers a range of ideas to open up thinking and new possibilities for action.
- help us recognize and become more tolerant of other views, more rounded,
more active in creating and influencing our surroundings.
- help us became critically-reflexive practitioners: to understand how
ideologies, assumptions (our own and others), organizational structures and
processes can silence and marginalize groups and individuals, and offer ways
of overcoming this.1

Each perspective has something different to offer. I ask students to remain open to the
various ideas before making any judgements about their value. They may agree or
disagree with a particular perspective after considering the pros and cons of each, and
should be able to give a reasoned argument to support their position an important
management skill!

Chapter 1 Specific Teaching Points

Why is it important to To understand:

understand how we
theorise? the link between theory and practice (theories
can be based on, and in turn influence, practice).
How the theories, models, ideas, discussed in
the book were developed.
The multiple ways of theorizing and their impact
on the three perspectives how and why
theorizing in each of the perspectives differs.
We create our own meanings, explanations, and
theories about the way things happen in life, so
what is the difference between common sense
theories and theorizing.
How we can create our own theories about
See the following for further information:
Cunliffe, A. L. & Jun, J. (2005) The need for reflexivity in public administration. Administration and
Society. 37, 225-242.
Cunliffe, A. L. (2004) On becoming a critically reflexive practitioner. Journal of Management
Education. 28, 407-427

Oxford University Press, 2012. All rights reserved.

Hatch with Cunliffe: Organization Theory, 3rd edition, Chapter 1

organizations as practitioners and academics.

That there is no single overarching theory that
explains how organizations function.

The definitions of and Students typically react with scepticism when these
difference between terms are introduced, but they are crucial in
ontology and understanding the differences between the three
epistemology. perspectives. Its important to emphasize and
reinforce these ideas throughout the course.

Ontology is about the nature of reality:

- how we see/think about reality
- how we decide what is real
- if and how we create our social realities
- and is also about agency: are we cognitive, rational,
active beings, do we shape or are we shaped by
our environment/language?

Epistemology is about how we know what we know:

- how we decide what is good knowledge
- how we create knowledge
- how we develop theories
- what those theories are about

Discussion Questions

1. Why do we need to study organization theory?

2. How might a subjectivist view organizations?
3. How might an objectivist view organizations?
4. Does an organization/job exist if there are no people present? (Link to the ontological
assumptions of the three perspectives)
5. Why is a multiple perspectives approach to organization theory important?

Suggested Class Activities

1. Have course members either introduce themselves or spend 10 minutes talking to a

class member they do not know and then introduce that person. Depending on the
students, points to cover could include:

- name
- work experience: job / organization

Oxford University Press, 2012. All rights reserved.

Hatch with Cunliffe: Organization Theory, 3rd edition, Chapter 1

- goals for the course

- what organization theory means to me.

2. This could be done after a discussion of Chapter 1, or in more depth after covering
material in Chapter 2.

Split the class into 3 (or multiples of 3) groups. Each group takes one perspective. Ask
each group to identify their ontological and epistemological assumptions and how these
might influence their view of organizations and the way they might manage an

Modernist Group - ontology based on an objective reality

Epistemology based on rational explanations of concrete phenomena.
Implications for management concern for efficiency and rationality.
Organizations as structures.
Designing the most efficient organization structure.
Rational decision-making, identifying the problem, the facts.
Defining roles, drawing organization charts.
Setting up systems and procedures to control and reward
performance, maximize efficiency, and ensure consistency.

Symbolic-Interpretivist subjectivist ontology

Group Epistemology based on studying the world as emergent
social processes, through the eyes of participants.
Implications for management focus on culture and people; how
values, ideas, language etc shapes coordinated action.
Organizations as communities.
Identify different ideas and meanings in subgroups.
Explore how meanings can be understood and managed through
symbols, logos, mission statements etc.
Participation, involved citizens (public sector).

Postmodernist Linguistically created realities.

Group Epistemology question Truth and uncover multiple interpretations.
Implications for management question and explore different ways of
doing things.
Organizations as sites of fragmentation, power, and oppression.

Oxford University Press, 2012. All rights reserved.

Hatch with Cunliffe: Organization Theory, 3rd edition, Chapter 1

Examine how structure and management marginalize workers and

Reveal different meanings in organizational policies, practices, and

Oxford University Press, 2012. All rights reserved.