Metaphors of Organizations

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Metaphors of Organizations

"All theories of organization and management are based on implicit images or metaphors that persuade us to see, understand, and imagine situations in partial ways. Metaphors create insight. But they also distort. They have strengths. But they also have limitations. In creating ways of seeing, they create ways of not seeing. Hence there can be no single theory or metaphor that gives an all-purpose point of view. There can be no 'correct theory' for structuring everything we do."

If you are a consultant, facilitator or manager interested in organizations and how they do and don't work, then Gareth Morgan's books, Images of Organization and Imaginization are a 'must read'. An abstract can be found here.

Images of Organization

The central thesis of this book is that all theories of organization and management are based on implicit metaphor, and that metaphors play a paradoxical role: they are vital to understanding and highlighting certain aspects of organizations, while at the same time they restrict understanding by backgrounding or ignoring others. In all aspects of life, we define our reality in terms of metaphors and then proceed to act on the basis of the metaphors. We draw inferences, set goals, make commitments, and execute plans, all on the basis of how we in part structure our experience, consciously and unconsciously, by means of metaphor.

Take for example the the very common metaphor that an organization is like a machine. We think in terms of 'inputs and outputs', maximizing 'production' and making 'efficiency the driving force'. When things are going well we say the organization is 'running like clockwork', a 'well-oiled engine' or an 'assembly line'. When they are not, then communication has 'broken down' and 'things need fixing' because there is 'a spanner in the works'. In response we want to get to the 'nuts and bolts' of the operation and intervene at the point of maximum 'leverage'. We conduct 'time and...
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