In this introductory, self-paced course, you will learn multiple theories of organizational behavior and apply them to actual cases of organizational change.
Organizations are groups whose members coordinate their behaviors in order to accomplish a shared goal. They can be found nearly everywhere in today’s society: universities, start-ups, classrooms, hospitals, non-profits, government bureaus, corporations, restaurants, grocery stores, and professional associations are some of many examples of organizations.
Organizations are as varied and complex as they are ubiquitous: they differ in size and internal structure; they can entail a multiplicity of goals and tasks (some of which are planned and others unplanned!); they are made up of individuals whose goals and motivations may differ from those of the group, and they must interact with other organizations and deal with environmental constraints in order to be successful. This complexity frequently results in a myriad of problems for organizational participants and the organization’s survival.
In this course, we will use organizational theories to systematically analyze how an organization operates and can best be managed.
Organizational theories highlight certain features of an organization’s structure and environment, as well as its processes of negotiation, production, and change. Each provides a lens for interpreting novel organizational situations and developing a sense of how individual and group behaviors are organized. Theories are valuable for the analyst and manager because most organizational problems are unique to the circumstances and cannot be solved by simple rules of thumb.
Armed with a toolset of organizational theories, you will be able to systematically identify important features of an organization and the events transforming it; choose a theoretical framework most applicable to the observed mode of organizing; use that theory to determine which actions will best redirect the organization in desired directions.
In sum, the course has three goals: to become familiar with a series of real-world organizational phenomena; to learn different theoretical perspectives that can elucidate these phenomena and to apply these different ways of “seeing” and managing organizations to cases. In such a fashion, the course is designed to actively bridge theory and practice, exposing students to a variety of conceptual tools and ways to negotiate novel situations.
Module 1 – Introduction
Module 2 – Decisions by Rational and Rule-based Procedures
In this module, we will present a general introduction and discussion to decision-making in organizations. We will relate various rational system views of organizations that tend to focus on administrative units or leaders of organizations.
Module 3 – Decisions by Dominant Coalitions
This module will give a more elaborate depiction of that model, and focus on its core process of exchange and coalition formation. Within organizations, you will frequently confront coalitions of interests, and you will come to realize that collective action and organizational reforms are impossible if you do not build and manage a coalition to get things done. Therefore, we turn now to the Coalition theory. To relate this theory, throughout this chapter we will draw heavily on the writings by James G March (1962, 1994: chapter 4) and Kevin Hula (1999) concerning coalition formation.
Module 4 – Organized Anarchy
This module introduces you to the basic features of decision-making in organized anarchies, or what some call a “garbage can theory of organizations. What do we mean that the decision process resembled an organized anarchy?
Well, for example, some of them have a hard time coming up with their group’s platform and identity. Also, some of the group’s proposed solutions changed over the course of bargaining – some initially proposed universal vouchers only to promote targeted vouchers in the end. Almost all of the groups thought in terms of an identity and what that entailed. And they also thought about other’s identities and interests when trying to manipulate the situation in their favor.
Module 5 – Organizational Learning
In this module, we will describe the theory of organizational learning and what it entails. In the most general terms, the organizational learning perspective concerns adaptation and learning from experience. But how does an organization learn? Organizations learn by encoding inferences from history into organizational structures (so best practices into rules, routines, and roles), people, technologies (curricula), and culture (norms, beliefs) that guide behavior. That is, organizations reflect on what works well or not, and then encode that knowledge into its organizational elements (participants, technology/tasks, social structure) so it can remember.
Module 6 – Organizational Culture
In this module, we will cover organizational culture. We will look carefully at Gideon Kunda’s book, Engineering Culture, to put into question the organizational culture ideal. Within an organizational culture, actors make sense of their existence according to identities and norms, and these are often constructs afforded by the organization they are in. Think of the culture at firms like Apple or Facebook – all have an identity and norms surrounding their performance.
As such, the motive in an organizational culture is the expression and fulfillment of an identity – a strong intrinsic motivator! An organizational culture entails normative (valued) and cognitive (implicit) aspects of organizational social structures. These are deep structural facets that guide interaction.
Module 7 – Resource Dependency Theory
The theory we will discuss in this chapter is Resource Dependence Theory, and it views an organization in terms of its resource dependencies with other firms in the environment.
Module 8 – Networks
In this module, we will describe how organization researchers look at social networks within organizations.
In addition, we will describe how some theorists contend there is a network form of organization that is distinct from hierarchical organizations and markets. So we will relate two perspectives: a purely analytic one that describes networks within organizations, and a theoretical one concerning a prescribed form of inter-organizational association that can result in better outputs.
Module 9 – Institutional Theory
In this module, we will continue our discussion of organizations as open systems whose survival depends on their relationship with the environment. In particular, we will discuss one of the prevailing organizational theories stemming from sociology, called “neo-institutional theory.” In oversimplified terms, one can think of neo-institutional theory as arguing that an organization’s survival de- pends on its fit with the cultural environment.
That is, a firm’s success depends on whether it adopts structures that are deemed rational and legitimate in the external environment; that the firm mirrors environmental beliefs about what a legitimate organization of that type should look like. Neoinstitutional theory has always been one of the harder theories for students to fully grasp, so we have organized the chapter to be a little repetitive. We will discuss many of the core concepts twice and relate them in different ways so you get a better sense of what this theory conveys.
Module 10 – Population Ecology and Course Summary
In this module, we conclude our study of organizations as open systems whose survival and success depend on their reaction to the environment. We introduce a 10th and final theory called “Population Ecology”. There is a long history of work that applies biological and natural selection metaphors to organizations (Scott 2003:117; Davis and Powell 1992:342-354), let alone to the study of society.
Final exam for the course.
Daniel A. McFarland