Metaphors of Management and Organization in Germany and France

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Problems and Perspectives in Management, 1/2006


From Charts and Sails. Metaphors of Management and Organization in Germany and France Markus Gmür Abstract
Metaphors of organization rely on a set of assumptions about organizational reality. A comparison of dominant concepts of organization in Germany and France shows that the preference of scientists and practitioners for certain metaphors of organization is culturally determined. The history of organization science in research and practice determines the emergence of preferred metaphors. These find expression in German and French textbooks on organization as much as in the organizational structures of German and French companies. In essence, the differences between the underlying concepts of organization studies by German and French scientists and practitioners may be reduced to two metaphors: chart and sail. In German organization theory and practice, there is a dominant image of an organization as an essentially centripetal entity and structure for the efficient differentiation and integration of individual tasks with a view to a common, tangible goal. French organization theory and practice, however, are predominantly determined by an image of an organization as a temporary arrangement and common guiding image for its various interested parties towards the achievement of a given goal. Key words: metaphor, organization theory, organizational structure, comparative studies, Germany, France.

‘If you want to build a ship, don't muster people to collect wood together and don't assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.’ With this oft-quoted metaphor, the French writer Antoine de Saint-Exupéry is said to have expressed his vision of successful team organization. In so doing, he juxtaposed two images of organizing: organization through systematic allocation of tasks and organization through common guiding images. Even though Saint-Exupéry was not looking to represent intercultural differences through images of organization, the juxtaposition may be used to identify differences between dominant French and German images of organization and, in short, the question of whether a chart or a sail is more important for the attainment of a goal. Metaphors of organization influence researchers in theory formulation and practitioners in shaping structures and processes. They are based on a set of paradigmatic assumptions about organizational reality (Morgan, 1980) and bring these together in a self-contained and consistent analogy. Gareth Morgan (1986) introduced a range of eight metaphors of organization, which he uses as a framework for ordering the whole of organization science: organizations as machines, organisms, brains, cultures, political systems, psychic prisons, flux and transformation, and as instruments of domination. This set of organizational metaphors has since been extended repeatedly, e.g. by the theatre metaphor of Mangham and Overrington (1987) or the jazz metaphor of Weick (1998) and others. Subsequent debate around metaphors in organization research has concentrated mainly on two issues. Firstly, the fundamental question of the scientific status of the metaphor approach and its usefulness for organization science arises repeatedly, and is answered in very different ways (Reed, 1990; Grant and Oswick, 1996). The second and less disputed area of discussion focuses on the usage of metaphors in processes of organizational change and transformation (Sackmann, 1989; Marshak, 1996). However, the question of how metaphors in organization science are actually established and the precise influence of national culture remain largely unexplained. So far, the epistemologi© Markus Gmür, 2006


Problems and Perspectives in Management, 1/2006

cal debate of metaphors in organizational research would suggest that a metaphor could be interpreted primarily as a means of promoting creativity in...
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