AccessMyLibrary provides FREE access to millions of articles from top publications available through your library.
Change is afoot in the way work is organized and managed. Indeed, the change has gathered sufficient momentum to be heralded as a new paradigm both in government (Barzelay, 1992; Osborne & Gaebler, 1993) and business (Albrecht, 1988; Ray & Rinzler, 1993). Despite talk of paradigms, more often the focus is on technique and not the fundamental nature of the change itself. An appreciation of the latter is important for two reasons.
First, new management strategies assume a concept of organization at odds with the prevailing one, envisioning different patterns of relating among employees and between them, their managers, and the situation of their work. These strategies typically focus on the process of work rather than on its inputs and outputs. A focus on process reveals the interconnectedness of the functional aspects of work rather than their historical compartmentalization. And recognition of this interconnectedness leads to an emphasis on the relationships between people at work, evident in references to the flattening of the organization's hierarchy and empowering line employees, in the promotion of teamwork, and in the ascendancy of the "customer." Such departures from prevailing theories of organization are significant because how we think about organization influences how we participate in it. The success of new management strategies will require a new vision of organization.
Second, mainstream theories fail to account for the essential human-ness of organization, and by failing to do so, they distract us from that dimension of organization that is its lifeblood. We tend to think and talk about organizations as if they enjoy a concrete existence independent of the people who constitute them. Even theories in the so-called humanist tradition conceive of the individual in service to a preexisting organization. For example, although McGregor (1960) and Argyris (1957, 1964) acknowledge the fundamental tension between the needs of the individual and those of formal organization, they argue that the two can be integrated by creating conditions that allow people to achieve their own goals by directing their efforts toward the satisfaction of organizational ones.
The structure of the study of organization reflects and reinforces the perception of a preexisting organization. Whereas organization theory is defined as the study of formal organizations (Burrell & Morgan, 1979), organization behavior is described as the study of the actions and attitudes of people within organizations (Robbins, 1988). The distinction is an artificial one because the study of each necessarily makes assumptions about, and has implications for, the study of the other. An organization does not exist without the people who constitute it, and people in their interaction are always in some way organized, existing in relationship to one another. Enduring organizational change requires a consciousness of this reality, for it is only with such a consciousness that the interpersonal dynamics that support and those that undermine organized efforts can be identified and understood.
In this article, I present an alternative way to think about organization, one that is consistent with new management strategies and highlights the essential humanness of organization. According to this view, organization emerges in the process of human interaction; social relations are constitutive of organization. Although I agree with Weick (1979) in this regard, I draw on the work of Mary Parker Follett and Bowenian family systems theorists to go beyond Weick. Weick envisions a process of organizing constituted by behaviors but devoid of people. His work suffers from a lack of what Harmon and Mayer (1986, p. 359) refer to as "a theory of the self," a theory that can account for the "psychological dynamics" of organizing. I look at the interpersonal dynamics that fuel the behaviors that are the object of Weick's concern. Although Follett's work proves useful in elucidating the process by which organization is constituted, she alludes to but does not adequately address the dynamics that fuel different patterns of interaction. Therefore, I supplement her work with that of Bowenian family systems theorists to examine more closely the psychology of the process of organization.
The work of Follett, as well as my own, can be distinguished from that of Weick in yet another respect. Like Weick, Follett (1924) emphasizes the process rather than the structure of organization, and thus like him, she expresses a preference for the use of verbs rather than nouns. Nor would Follett disagree with the notion of retrospective sense making, the centerpiece of Weick's conception of organization; she herself observes that "they do and then they have the ideas involved in the doing" (p. 85). Unlike Weick, however, the sense-making aspect of the organizing process is not the focus of Follett's work. She emphasizes the human experience of organizing instead, attending in some detail to the behavioral aspects of the organizing process, including the interaction that occurs between people. For Follett, meaning emerges out of this activity and the human interaction that constitutes it.
My contention is that the interpersonal dynamics that fuel interaction determine the nature of organization, that this dynamic is a product of the consciousness people bring to the organizing process, and that this consciousness emerges in the process of interaction itself. In other words, like organizations, people are constituted by their social relations. The critical question is, What kind of consciousness or capacity for relating is evoked in the process of interaction? I explore this in terms of the extent to which people interact in a way that is either progressive or regressive, and to what effect. To function in a progressive fashion entails effectively meeting the ever-changing circumstances of existence and, in so doing, contributing to a future capacity to do so. To function regressively entails undermining such capacity. Implicit here are notions of control and development, control being the ability to determine that toward which effort is directed and development, the sustaining of the capacity to do so. I address both of these ideas in later sections of the article. In the following sections, I first describe in more detail this alternative vision of organization and the concepts of interaction and consciousness that support it.
It is important from the outset to distinguish the organizational perspective adopted here from that of theorists identified as interpretivist. Although I share with these theorists a belief in the subjectivist notion that people construct the world within which they live, I depart from their concern for the status quo to explore instead the extant potential for change. The vision of organization advanced in this article thus falls within the radical humanist, rather than interpretivist, paradigm, as explicated by Burrell and Morgan (1979). Whereas the interpretivists focus only on the way in which social reality is constructed, those associated with the radical humanist tradition are concerned as well with "setting human consciousness or spirit free and thus facilitating the growth and development of human potentialities" (Burrell & Morgan, 1979, p. 306). In this article, I examine the patterns of interaction that contribute to, and those that detract from, a person's capacity to meet the ever-changing circumstances of her or his life.
CIRCULAR RESPONSE AS A PRINCIPLE OF ORGANIZATION
Follett uses the doctrine of circular response as the basis for her theory of organizing, as it occurs in both public and private realms. The idea of circular response, implicit in much of her work, receives its fullest articulation in her book Creative Experience (Follett, 1924). In that volume, Follett describes circular response in three fundamental principles:
1. Response is not to a rigid or static environment but to a changing one.
2. The environment is changing because of the activity between it and people.
3. Response is always to this activity of relating rather than to the environment or person alone.
Significantly, each of these principles contradicts key assumptions associated with mainstream organization theory.
Despite the apparent diversity in the field, at least three hidden assumptions cut across mainstream theories of organization. The first is that the organization is presupposed to have an existence; it is seen as existing in a concrete sense prior to people entering into it. Rather than explicitly granting the organization ontological status, more often such status is accorded through the attribution of purposes or objectives to the organization itself. This is apparent in Barnard's (1938) The Functions of the Executive, the first American attempt at a comprehensive theory of organization, one that would later influence other such attempts. According to Barnard, "the deliberate adoption of means to ends is the essence of formal organization" (p. 186); purpose is the "coordinating and unifying principle" (p. 95) to which organization members subordinate themselves. Some 40 years later, those identified with open systems theory would in the same vein define organizational functions in terms of "the outcomes that are the energic source for maintenance of the same type of output" and not the "conscious purposes" of the people who work for the organization (Katz & Kahn, 1978, p. 21).
The second crosscutting assumption is that people have little or no identity independent of the organization and thus are determined by it. Typically, this is expressed in terms of an organization's ability to determine or direct human behavior. Barnard (1938) identifies three essential elements of formal organization, the first two of which have been described already: (a) purpose, (b) willingness to cooperate, and (c) communication. According to him, common purpose and the willingness to cooperate are potentialities only. Communication is "the process by which these potentialities become dynamic" (p. 89), orienting human action toward organizational purpose. Simon, who originally published his now classic Administrative Behavior in 1945, acknowledges an intellectual debt to Barnard, stating in a 1986 interview that "of course I built squarely on Barnard" (Golembiewski, 1988, p. 278). One of the foundations of Simon's earliest work is Barnard's notion of organizational equilibrium, which conceives of organization as an ongoing exchange of inducements and contributions, securing people's contributions to the organization by offering them inducements sufficient to satisfy personal needs. Simon sees this as the "motivational link" between a person and an organization, an explanation for "why organizational influences . . . are such effective forces in molding human behavior" (Simon, 1976, p. xv).
The final crosscutting assumption is that the causal relationship between organization and individual is linear, so that organizational conditions produce …