Earlier in this thread, I wrote: "I'll side with Jan. Organizations
don't do anything; people do."
Fred Reed responds: "To say that organizations don't do anything is
to completely disregard a level of analysis that seems essential to a
"systems approach"; that is, of the organization as an "entity."
Hmm. I can see how I said could be taken that way but I don't mean it
I am a firm believer in three levels of analysis: system, subsystem, and
suprasystem. Moreover, these three levels can be ratcheted up and down.
Thus, that which is a subsystem in one analysis can become the system or
even the suprasystem in another. Similarly, the suprasystem in one
analysis can become a subsystem in another.
Moving from level to level offers the opportunity for the careless analyst
to err gravely as a result of "shifting conceptual gears" and not even
Example: Donald Kirpatrick's well-known "levels" of evaluating training
are as follows: reactions, learning, behavior, results. The first three
focus on the trainee; the fourth "shifts gears" and goes somewhere else.
Similarly, the structure-->patterns of behavior-->events paradigm in Peter
Senge's "Fifth Dimension" also shift gears as it moves from level to
level. There is nothing wrong with such transitions, provided you are
aware of them. One of my own regularly used analytical paradigms proceeds
As I move from level to level (up or down) within this framework, I have
to keep in mind that I am not decomposing a thing into its elements but
that I am instead taking different looks at the same thing.
Where I have difficulty, on occasion, is with analyses of organizations as
systems that focus on physical elements; for example, viewing teams or
even organizations as collections of individuals.
Marion Brady, in LO3329, observed: "Isn't there an old Chinese
riddle, "If you have a horse and a cart, how many things do you have?
Three. A horse. A cart. A horse-and-cart."
There is real value in the comment above and it pertains to the discussion
The point it makes is illustrative of the notion of a gestalt, that the
whole is greater than the sum of its parts. That view, I believe, is
generally accepted. But, what is it that constitutes the difference
between the whole and its parts? I think it's relationships. In the case
of the horse and the cart, the relationships are spatial and temporal.
The horse and the cart come together and relate to one another in such a
way as to constitute a "horse-and-cart." Similarly, a bun, a meat patty,
and various condiments do not add up to a hamburger -- unless certain
spatial and temporal conditions are satisfied.
Not all relationships in an organizational setting are spatial and
temporal. Some are arithmetic; for example, income minus expenses equals
profit. Some are social, some are behavioral, and some might be termed
"political." There are doubtless others as well.
I like to keep my analyses "clean," which is to say, I don't care for
mixing up and running the risk of confusing what is being done with whom
or what is doing it. So, I rarely use a chain of reasoning that runs from
individuals to groups to organizations (or in the other direction for that
matter). That is a component-centered view of organizations and, frankly,
I prefer Frederick Allport's view of organizations as "cycles of events"
So, is it convenient to say something like, "GE produces appliances"? Of
course it is. And one can profitably study the processes whereby those
washing machines are produced. But one cannot observe that legal entity
known as GE producing them. And, when one reads that IBM announced its
acquisition of Lotus, it is well to remember that someone announced it but
that someone was not a sentient being named IBM. And if you should happen
to pick up a paper and read that the United States (or any other country
for that matter), is acting to protect its interests, you might wonder
what that really means.
In the final analysis, I suppose I'm simply being too picky for some
tastes, and so I'll not pursue this thread any farther, except to say the
Language shapes thought and thought shapes behavior.
Sloppy thinking is the inevitable product of sloppy use of language.
Sloppy thinking leads to ineffective, inefficient action -- in all
its many forms.
-- Fred Nickols email@example.com