Reflections on Wieliczka

by Tom Galvin

 

In my preparations for Episode 34 (Trist & Bamforth, 1951), I was reminded of a bus tour I took back in the summer of 2001 from Heidelberg, Germany to Krakow, Poland. Part of the tour included a guided visit to the Wieliczka Salt Mines (vee-LEECH-ka) located only a short drive from Krakow. The mines in Wieliczka were opened in the 13th century and produced table salt for almost 800 years until it was closed in 1996. With the end of the Cold War and increased tourism in Poland, While I had never visited a coal mine, the tour of the salt mines told me much about both the hardships of mining and the social fabric that bind miners together.

Salt mining is different than coal mining in some key respects (the rock is much softer and flowing water is seriously dangerous in a salt mine), but they have much environmentally in common. The mines are dark and cramped, much work is put into ensuring the mine’s safety and stability, and the hand-got methods used in Wieliczka resembled those described in the article – small teams working together on a short face.

But what made Wieliczka such a wonder was how the miners amused themselves – by taking the caverns they excavated and turning them into decorative rooms, complete with simulated tile flooring, beautiful statues and engraving in the ‘walls’, and (in some rooms) chandeliered lighting with full chandeliers constructed using salt crystals—created by dissolving the rock salt and forming them into a clear form of glass. The most famous of these rooms is the St. Kinga Chapel which includes electrically-lit chandeliers, a twenty-foot long engraving of the ‘Last Supper’ that closely resembles da Vinca’s famous painting, and a fully formed altar and pulpit. The miners also carved lots of statues, mostly religious figures but later ones were influenced by Marxism and desires for worker solidarity. I recalled the tour guide telling us that some workers took great risk in expressing their political views through the statues, and some were carved in secrecy.

What drove these miners to undertake such massive and glorious projects? This was the central question I asked myself when relating the Wieliczka story to Trist & Bamforth. It was clearly the social fabric that bound the miners together – mostly expressions of faith and unity that helped them endure the harsh environment. The upper levels had very simple rooms with crude statues, possibly due to both inexperience and natural erosion inside the mine. The sophistication and beauty increased as one got down to the middle levels where the cathedral and numerous other chapels and meeting rooms were formed. One could imagine how the impetus to create these works of art snowballed – some miners took initiative to overcome the dreariness of hard labor. As the mine was successful and the miners dug deeper, they experimented and tried new things. With each new chamber came an opportunity to try something new. And the cycle continued for centuries.

Trist & Bamforth described how the mechanization of the longwall method changed (some may say destroyed) the social fabric of the organization. I think it is useful to consider what they meant by social fabric. They included examples of how the workers bonded inside and outside the mine, such that their families would support each other in times of need. The new technology broke those ties and changed the relationships, leading to the loss of morale. Perhaps Wieliczka offers another perspective on social fabric, a freedom for members to express themselves and transcend the drudgery of the environment – perhaps not unlike the dedicated teachers at a school who put in the extra hours in service to their kids or the rare traffic cop who orchestrates busy intersections through a dance routine, rather than moving robotically when signaling the change in traffic flow.

Episode 35 will present our discussion of The Managed Heart: Commercialization of Human Feeling by Arlie Russell Hochschild. This is a perfect segue from the discussion of a social fabric. With global knowledge of firms made possible by information technology, it is easier now than ever to judge organizations on the basis of their missions, purposes, processes, products and services, clientele, and other tangible factors. But what about an organization’s soul? Should it matter to we the consumers how firms, businesses, or governments treat their own members? How closely connected its members are? If one were to visit Wieliczka when it was still open and ventured deep down into the chapels, what would one think? My, how beautiful? Or My, how many excess workers are down here with all this time on their hands? Time for a right-sizing!

I would propose this – the soul of the organization is the degree to which it provides the will and abilities to promote the good in all its members and relationships. Saint Augustine might agree.

The above pictures are Tom's, taken with a very old digital camera. The first picture is a model of a miner and his horse showing that animals were originally used to help transport the salt. The second is an engraving from within St. Kinga's Cathedral

 

This blog post contains solely the views of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of any agency of the U.S. Government.

Reflections on the “Process and practice perspectives on organisation studies” workshop at the University of Queensland Business School

By Dr Ella Hafermalz

“Process and practice perspectives” are piquing the interest of a range of organisational scholars. The group that gathered at the University of Queensland Business School workshop last week represented the diversity of scholars interested in these approaches. Faculties of Management, Information Systems, Advertising and more were represented, as were Phds, Professors, ECRs; those who publish from a process and practice perspective, and those more familiar with positivist approaches – all attended with an open mind. This kind of diversity of scholarly backgrounds is rare at a themed workshop, and as you would expect, it added to the quality of interactions and liveliness of discussions over the two days.

As keynote Professor Hari Tsoukas reminded us, process and practice perspectives have more similarities than differences. They both allow us to investigate how organising happens and how the processes involved in organising are experienced by practitioners. Practice theories in particular emphasise everyday life – what activities are practitioners involved in, and how is meaning exercised through these routines and collectivities? Process philosophy offers a related perspective, with a greater emphasis on how temporality frames and arises from our experiences of everyday life. While some of the workshop was dedicated to discussing the difference between process and practice perspectives, the closing statements concluded that they are “two sides of the same coin”. Trying to distinguish them is perhaps less useful than figuring out how to put them to work in organisational research.

This practical concern was a central theme of the workshop. How can we do process and practice research, and, not insignificantly, how can we publish it? Keynote speaker Professor Paula Jarzabkowski offered several important insights here. Illuminating her points with examples from her large-scale ethnographic research on the reinsurance industry, Professor Jarzabkowski explained how she and her co-authors keep track of what “surprises” them in the field. These surprises often inform the basis of a project’s theoretical contribution. The trick is to note down what shows up as unusual during the process of doing research – by the end of a longitudinal ethnography it’s easy to get so immersed that the surprises melt away in retrospect. Emails between co-authors were one practical way in which these important surprising moments were recorded.

I have heard some scholars assert that longitudinal ethnography is the only way to study process. It was great to hear Professor Jarzabkowski challenge this assumption. Sure, if you are studying what is known as ‘weak’ process (e.g. a, leads to b, leads to c), it might be necessary to capture ‘events’ over time. However, ‘strong’ process refers to an understanding of temporality as central to all phenomena – life isn’t static, it is always on the move: every moment has come from somewhere and is going somewhere. From this perspective, every moment can be studied with a sensitivity to process, in terms of temporality. We can, Professor Jarzabkowski explained, study “process in the moment”. This is possible if we pay attention, for example, to how a phenomenon, in a moment of apparent stability, has come to be stabilized (e.g. a British institution appears stable, but an enormous amount of work has gone into making it appear that way). Professor Jarzabkowski argued convincingly for this way of looking at instances of a phenomenon in terms of process.

In relation to the important issue of publishing, both Professor Tsoukas and Professor Jarzabkowski stressed that as organisational scholars, our research is not contributing to social theory. We can productively use social theory to frame and inform our research, but at the end of the day we need to contribute to our own fields (e.g. organisational theory, advertising, Information Systems, etc.). Studying the works of practice theorists and process philosophers can be wonderfully enriching, but we need to keep an eye on our audience and the kinds of contributions that will resonate with them. This focus means being prepared to make compromises in the review process. It is worth triaging to an extent - what is your main message, and where are you willing to concede? We heard that we will likely be asked to remove traces of the research process, including accounts of how social theory has informed our work, as we progress through reviews. Though pragmatic, this sounded somewhat painful. For those like myself who are new to publishing process and practice research, forewarned is forearmed.

The panelists Professor Dubravka Cecez-Kecmanovic and Professor Kai Riemer, along with conveners Dr Paul Spee and Professor Jorgen Sandberg (a former TAOP guest), also shared their experiences and reflections on conducting research from a process and practice perspective. Professor Riemer recollected that a practice perspective, informed by philosopher Martin Heidegger, helped him and his co-author Professor Robert Johnston see how technologies were taken for granted by practitioners who used them, to the point where practitioners could not easily communicate the significance of their technologies to the researchers. Practice theory offered a way of accounting for and theorising this observation. Professor Cecez-Kecmanovic shared how a process philosophy perspective has added insight to her study (co-authored with A/Prof Olivera Marjonovic) on the way in which an Australian educational website, which collates and compares the national performance of schools on standardized tests, enacts unintended consequences for how students, teachers, and teaching practice are understood and performed as “good” or “bad”. This example prompted discussion on how process and practice perspectives can serve to highlight ethical issues, such as the effects of categorization and marginalization.

On top of the informative keynotes and panels, the workshop also featured interactive discussions, feedback on work-in-progress, roundtables, and conversation over dinner on the stunning Brisbane river. The two days allowed those who were new to process and practice perspectives to voice questions, concerns, and puzzlements, for example, Professor Andrew Burton-Jones expressed an interest in knowing more about the role of “representation” in process and practice theories. For those already adopting these perspectives in their research, questions focused around publishing, and how we can push the conceptual agenda further. Personally, I felt that performativity emerged as a theme of significance for understanding the intersection between process and practice perspectives. Some who attended this excellent workshop will see each other again at the 9th Annual Process Philosophy Symposium in Greece (PROS). There was also mention of the UQ Process and Practice Perspectives workshop becoming an annual event – let us hope that this imagining becomes a reality!

 

Workshop information:

The University of Queensland Business School Workshop Process and practice perspectives on organisation studies: Similarities and distinctiveness

Conveners and organisers: Professor Jorgen Sandberg and Dr Paul Spee, the University of Queensland,

Dr Anna Stephens, the University of Queensland 

Keynote Speakers: Professor Hari Tsoukas, University of Cyprus and Warwick Business School, & Professor Paula Jarzabkowski, CASS Business School and the University of 

Panel members: Professor Kai Riemer, the University of Sydney, Professor Dubravka Cecez-Kecmanovic, University of New South Wales 

Sponsors: UQ Business School and the University of Queensland 

Location: UQ Business School, 2-3 February 2017

 

Book Review: Simply Managing (2013)

by Ralph Soule

This is a review of Henry Mintzberg’s Simply Managing (2013), subject of Talking About Organizations Podcast Episode 14. This review is also intended to be useful as a summary of the work – to be read before listening to the Episode – but we all do recommend that you read the actual book, if at all possible, as it is as accessible and insightful as it is brief.

The book is an updated study of managers conducted by Henry Mintzberg based on observing 29 managers at all levels of organizations across a range of industries and organizational structures: business, government, healthcare, and pluralistic organizations such as museums and NGO’s. It is a condensed version of his earlier book - Managing, which was published in 2009. Both books address management as actually practiced, which the Author finds to be quite different from how it is taught and written of in academia. Simply Managing is designed to be of greatest use to practitioners, with its entertaining style and lots of boldface type to clearly emphasize the key points. As a manager in the US Navy for 30 years, I found much of the book’s insight and grasp of the challenges inherent in being a manager to resonate with me.

In Chapter 1 of the book, Mintzberg used his observations to debunk the conventional notions of what management is and what it is not. For all the changes in the professional world of management practice, Mintzberg concluded that the nature of management has not changed substantially in the 40 years between the publication of The Nature of Managerial Work – his seminal book about managerial practices - and Simply Managing. The practice of management is still messy, confusing, frustrating, and on many days, still immensely satisfying work. This has certainly been my experience, particularly the personal satisfaction one can derive from taking a tangled mess of priorities, a team I didn’t choose, and more things to do than could ever fit in a single day and negotiating a workable plan that people could believe in and follow. Like Mintzberg, I have always believed that the distinctions that management authors try to make between leadership and management are artificial. Any person in a position of authority over others who cannot do both is a menace to work with and a chore to work for. Instead, Mintzberg calls for executives to provide both leadership and management in the spirit of what he calls ‘communityship’. During Episode 14, Henry noted that effective organizations have a sense of community where members actually care about each other. It is precisely those kinds of organizations that I found most satisfying to be in as a manager.

 Chapter 2 of Simply Managing reviews the myths of managing, which Mintzberg labels as folklore. These include: managers are supposed to be reflective and systematic planners (too much interruption and need for action for this one to be true!), managers need information presented formally in reports and graphs (most managers prefer informal communication because of speed and context), managing is all about hierarchy and who works for whom, and managers control things like time and people (most managing is covert, through mutual obligation). I have three myths of my own to add that did not make the cut (Henry noted that he wanted to keep the book short): 1) people want to work for transformational, take-no-prisoners, managers (people trying to be “transformational”, like Steve Jobs, don’t listen well and can be very polarizing), 2) people just want to be told what to do (no they don’t - they just want other people to be told what to do), and 3) management is about making decisions (yes, but sometimes deciding not to make a decision is the best course of action – see Episodes 7 and 8 on Chester Barnard).

Mintzberg then presents a model of managing in Chapter 3. It is his attempt to create one diagram that collects all the pieces of managing together. The model is intended to show how action, or action through others, is supported by information. This is done through linking, dealing, and communicating. According to the model, managers get things done through framing (establishing context) and scheduling their time for what they think is important. Managers make decisions, of course, but not all decisions are alike; there are many kinds, including: designing, delegating, authorizing, allocating resources, and deeming (imposing targets on people). Thinking back to my own practice, a couple of other important decisions managers have to make are: when to act and when to leave things alone, when to leave a struggling subordinate in place (with more help, possibly) and when to remove them because they are damaging the entire organization. Mintzberg argued that some deeming is necessary, but he went on to declare that a little goes a long way in organizations. I agree with him that too much deeming leads to one of the greatest pathologies of management: managing by remote control. Another pathology from deeming that I would add is management by fiat. I have found that people don’t support or respond very well to manager’s priorities if they don’t believe that those priorities matter. Finally, Mintzberg called for a dynamic balancing the 13 competencies he described in the section on ‘comprehensive roles of managers’.

Chapter 4 presented a critical view of management, one that only look at one of, or a few of its many varieties at a time at the expense of the fuller picture. A manager cannot be successful by focusing on just a few skills and ignoring all others as if they were somehow less important. Mintzberg argued that all the factors of management - external context, organizational form, level in the hierarchy, nature of the work, pressures of the job, and characteristics of the person in the job - have to be considered together. One of the things that makes managing so challenging (and definitely not simple) is that it is so multifaceted. Henry wrote “what you do as a manager is mostly determined by what you face as a manager, which is not independent of who you are as a person” (Chapter 4, The Yin and Yang of Managing, paragraph 15). He then noted that management simultaneously exhibits aspects of craft, science, and art. Personally, I think it is much more craft than art, as it takes *lots* of practice.

Chapter 5 is the most important part of the book, according to Henry. In it, he reviewed the paradoxes that are inherent in the practice of management. He refers to these as either ‘conundrums’ or ‘tightropes’. The latter one is a good term because I have often felt, as a manager, like I was trying to keep my balance while walking above a congregation of hungry alligators. The conundrums identified by Mintzberg are: superficiality, delegating, measuring, (over)confidence, and acting. I recognized all of these and can think of more: being loyal to your leadership’s agenda and goals versus clearly communicating problems that may make those goals impossible to achieve, permanently derailing people by removing them from positions of authority versus leaving them in place where they impact the morale of the entire organization, and, finally, listening to the doomsayers who predict your change won't work versus implementing the change because you believe it is the right thing to do. As Mintzberg noted, the conundrums are always going to be presents, and so they can only be reconciled but never resolved. Like the varieties of management identified in Chapter 4, a dynamic balance between the opposing sides of the paradoxes is often the best a manager can aim to accomplish.

In Chapter 6, the final chapter of the book, Mintzberg noted that for all its complexity, challenges, and conundrums, it is still the real people who have to manage every day. Which is something they do despite their inherent flaws, a healthy dose of which everyone has. In a very creative approach to analyzing management failures, Henry used a format inspired by Tolstoy’s quote from Anna Karenina: “Happy families are all alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own particular way.” This was followed by a review of personal failures, job failures, fit failures, and success failures (yes, that’s right!). These are examples of particular ways in which managers can fail. My personal favorite from the list is ‘job failures’, where people are put into impossible situations where no human without superpowers can succeed. I thought I was the only person that had ever had this problem - where success was not my chief concern, just mere survival. Accordingly, I found Mintzberg’s description of impossible jobs very validating.

Further in this chapter, he provided a framework for effectiveness based on Lewis et al.’s (1976) “No Single Thread: Psychological Health in Family Systems”. The threads of Lewis et al. parallel the framework for managerial effectiveness in context presented in Simply Managing. These threads are: energy level, reflectivity, analysis, level of sophistication, collaboration, productivity, and integration. The final two sections of the chapter address selecting, developing, and evaluating managers; neither one of which is done all that well in many organizations, according to Mintzberg. The trouble is that, in my opinion, much like the managerial challenges Henry illuminated in the book, this is really hard to do! So most of the organizations I have worked for made do with what they have either because it was the corporate tool, or because what they had was “good enough.”  

To summarize, I found the book to be thought provoking, comprehensive, and reassuring on many levels. While it can be appreciated by anyone, it is particularly valuable for practicing managers- its target audience. Throughout the book, Mintzberg gave voice to the frustrations and paradoxes that I have often felt as a manager, but was too busy balancing on the tightropes to notice happening all around as well. Particularly useful for practitioners is the model of management described in Chapter 3. It offers a means of framing the challenges associated with all the different roles a manager has to fill. The threads that describe aspects of managerial effectiveness in Chapter 6 were also very insightful and should prompt considerable reflection by the managers. They certainly did for me.

How to use Podcast as a Teaching Tool

by Dmitrijs Kravcenko

This post is about podcast as a platform and about how you can apply this platform to your teaching practice. While I will write from the perspective of a lecturer in a traditional University setting, I do believe that at least some of what I am going to say will be usable in other contexts and roles

If you spend enough time in a lecture theatre or a seminar room of a large University, a couple of things are likely to become fairly obvious. One is that neither the students nor their tutors, despite being present, really have to engage with anything that's going on and, Two, that the lecture theatre or seminar room where the class takes place can be a really awkward environment to learn in. In my experience, these two hold true regardless of whether you are a student or a teacher, and seem especially befitting in the case of Bachelor's degree candidates. I am certain we've all been there at least once - tutors reading from slides to an audience who'd rather be anywhere else (or a combination of either one).  

Of course, the exact opposite holds true as well - super engaging classes with super-star teachers (two of whom we'll have as guests for Episode 17!) who entertain, teach and mesmerize their students all at the same time. I am not one of these people, but neither am I someone who puts the class to sleep. Having worked with one of the aforementioned paragons of teaching practice I have jumped around the class playing games and doing plays with students, but found it to just not be my cup of tea - not least because I believe that the most rewarding and inclusive learning comes from the more or less autonomous solving of problems. Breaking paradigms on stage while adapting Shakespeare for management is great (it really is!), but there are other ways to unlock creativity and channel it towards learning outcomes too. I suspect that I am not alone in my disposition towards teaching so, for those of us who genuinely care about developing their students but do not want to put on a charade that is a forced "creative education" (i.e. if it does not come naturally - just don't do it), technology is here to help! 

And what a great help it can be! The Internet is an ultimate one-on-one form of communication - it is there just for you and you alone, and it will do (mostly) what you will ask of it. Podcasts are a manifestation of that as they are on-demand, always available anywhere, free and very pleasing to the ego (you basically have people tell you stories that you want to hear whenever and wherever - much like in the case with children). Apparently, learning via a podcast is called m-learning (m for mobile). M-learning is a form of E-learning, but only in a sense that it is through E that M is made possible. According to Saylor (2012), m-learning significantly boosts exam performance and cuts drop-out rates dramatically. In all honesty this seems about right, but for my money, the best aspect of m-learning is that it is easy and does not ask the learner to compromise their time - podcasts can be consumed while doing a myriad of other activities. My favourite time to consume podcasts is while driving, for example. So, to summarize, podcasts are great! Now, what can you do with them?

From my experience, there are two ways how you can infuse your teaching practice with this amazing resource. The first one is to give your students a selection of podcasts to listen to. This is probably most common and there are, indeed, great recordings of important lectures out there (especially on iTunes U). That being said, unless you are going to share Talking About Organizations with your students, please don't do this as it will almost certainly not work. Why not? Refer back to first paragraph where I spoke of engagement. This also applies to should you record some podcasts yourself (to supplement the lecture materials or similar). In any case, best not to.

The Second way of using podcasts for teaching is rather more exciting! You get students to produce their own podcasts as part of their assessment. Here is how this can be done with very minimal effort/disruption:

  1. Have part of the module assessment approved for groups presentations (usually can get up to 50% in the UK) - this will be the podcast. The rest can be done via exam or individual essay, or whatever else you need to do. In my experience, it is best to lead with the individual assessment in Term 1, and finish with the podcast in Term 2.
  2. Divide the module into groups of five-ish and assign different topics. It is important that they do not have repetition in their assignments.
  3. The task can be formulated as such: to produce a 15 or 21 minute podcast (15 minutes is approx a 3000-word script and 21 minutes is approx a 5000-word script, but encourage to record and include expert interviews or anything else) on the assigned topic/question. The content must include an overview of the topic, state the relevance, touch on the main debates and close with the implications. The podcast must display production value by delivering clear, understandable and engaging audio track as well as an opening and closing jingle music. 
  4. Students go away and do their research (more on this just below), record the podcast (anything that can record voice is sufficient), edit it with free software such as Audacity and submit either on the University server or literally anywhere else (e.g. Dropbox, Google Drive). Just make sure the submissions are in .mp3 or the files will be just enormous.
  5. Now, the grading for this is two-stage. First, you grade as you would a presentation. Second, have the students grade each others podcasts (this is why they ought to be on different topics) on a scale of 0-5. Using 'stars' for this would be most familiar to them as this is how its usually done literally anywhere. 
  6. Calculate average student score for each podcast and apply the following weighing: 0 for Zero, 0.8 for One, 0.9 for Two, 1 for Three, 1.1 for Four, and 1.2 for Five. Then multiply the mark you have given during Stage one of the grading process by whatever is the student weighing the podcast achieved. For example, if your mark was 70% and the podcast achieved 4 stars, then the final mark will be 70 x 1.1 = 77% ! Done! Students will appreciate the novelty of the task and an element of peer assessment (or so they say!) and you have fewer marking to do none of which is monotonous.  

What do the students get out of this? Quite a lot, to be honest. In terms of mechanics of putting the recording together they would need to:

1) do the research on the topic, both superficial and more in-depth to identify debates and come up with implications; 

2) write a script, which will require them to come up with a story that is not only informative but also engaging (e.g. begin with formulating a problem, follow up with an illustrative case study/anecdote, give general background,  state main issues/criticisms/problems with the general theory, follow this by main debates and tie up by answering the initial problem and saying what the implications are);

3) record the script, which is an exercise in public speaking, diction and presentation;

4) edit the podcast, which develops technical skills and aesthetic sensitivity;  

5) listen to and grade all the other podcasts thus learning about the remaining topics.

In curriculum-speak this would translate as 1) (and also 5) developing in-depth knowledge of the subject area, 2) developing critical thinking and problem-solving skills, 3) developing leadership and public speaking skills, 4) acquiring presentation skills. To make things more fun you can then actually post the podcast on iTunes every year for added impact/exposure. 

Podcasts are fun, simple, relevant and incredibly rewarding things to make! The same can no longer be said for traditional forms of assessment and/or module delivery. Did you know that something like 33% of all Americans have listened or are listening to a podcast (the survey was in 2012 I think)? How amazing is that?

Using podcasts for teaching also defeats the issue of engagement (simpler, more convenient and, as an assignment, frankly mandatory) and the space that it a lecture theatre or a seminar room (podcasts are produced in (home) studios, require problem solving and can be consumed anywhere and at any time). And it is incredibly easy for you, as a tutor, to incorporate them into your teaching practice! Try using podcast as a teaching tool and you will be giving your students a very tangible and relevant skill and an interesting final product they'd be able to share and show. Not to mention that you will significantly improve your quality of life during exam period!

*All this is based purely on my personal experiences of producing TAOP and applying exactly what I described above on two modules at the Warwick Business School, UK. With that in mind, please get in touch to tell me what you think of all this, whether you've tried something like this and to what effect, and if you'd like to discuss any of this in more detail.


Saylor, M. (2012). The Mobile Wave: How Mobile Intelligence Will Change Everything. Perseus Books/Vanguard Press.


A letter about Mary Parker Follett

by Albie M. Davis

Dear Podcasters,

What can I say?  Your discussion about Mary Parker Follett's (1868 – 1933) thoughts about "The Giving of Orders," with a focus on her notion of  "the law of the situation,” is such a delight.  The way you each share your thoughts and listen to one another, occasionally modifying your own thinking, after hearing and considering the thoughts of your colleagues, was like watching Follett’s ideas take form and evolve during the course of the conversation. To top off this experience, I listened to Johan’s summary last.  Sensational!

Thank you for developing such a novel and contemporary way to learn about and contribute to something as essential as how to work together in groups, whether they be families, schools, community meetings, the workplace, national governments or the United Nations. 

I first "met" Follett in 1989 in the Schlesinger Library, which was then part of Radcliffe College (for women) and is now The Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University.  I asked a librarian if she knew who Follett was, for I did not know if she was alive or dead.  The Librarian handed me Dynamic Administration:  The Collected Papers of Mary Parker Follett, and let me know that she had died in 1933.  However, when I flipped open her book and landed on the chapter on Constructive Conflict, a talk she presented before a Bureau of Personnel Administration conference group in January 1925, I thought, “She may have passed on, but her thinking is the most alive of anyone I know.”

Since your episode was so engaging, I made a few notes about what I might say if I were there. I hope you will forgive me for stepping into your exchange with the way I have come to think about “the law of the situation.”  This is a concept that has arisen slowly for me over the years, and probably will continue to change, but it is where I am today.

One of the things I love about Follett is the way in which mid-stream in her writing and talks she can modify her thinking. And another quality comes when she herself gets “swept up” in an idea.  Below is one of my favorite Follett’s trips.  I call this “The Surge of Life.”  It is from The New State, page 35.

The surge of life sweeps through the given similarity, the common ground, and breaks it up into a thousand differences. This tumultuous, irresistible flow of life is our existence: the unity, the common, is but for an instant, it flows on to new differings which adjust themselves anew in fuller, more varied, richer synthesis. The moment when similarity achieves itself as a composite of working, seething forces, it throws out its myriad new differings. The torrent flows into a pool, works, ferments, and then rushes forth until all is again gathered into the new pool of its own unifying. (NS35)

I love the phrase “the law of the situation,” however, “law” does suggest a certain static quality.  If you add up statements by Follett, it is clear she doesn’t see the world standing still. And in her third book, Creative Experience (1924) she makes it clears that:

 “A situation changes faster than anyone can report on it.  The developing possibilities of certain factors must be so keenly perceived that we get the report of a process, not a picture, and when it is necessary to present to us a stage in the process, it should be presented in such a way that we see the hints it contains of successive stages.”(CE9)

I agree with what sounded like a semi-consensus among your team: Follett only occasionally laid out a “how to” list of steps and stages.  She trusted the readers or listeners to figure that out themselves. And, it is thrilling to think that you are interested in tackling some of the challenges that face humanity in a world bursting with technological possibilities.

I admire the élan with which your team is creating your Talking About Organizations podcast, site and blog, and I look forward to your individual and collective insights into Follett and all those who shed light on how people can tap the creative energy spawned by the differences among members in a group.

 

With anticipation and appreciation,

Albie Davis


Albie M. Davis served as Director of Mediation for the Massachusetts District Courts from 1981 to 1999. In that role, she helped develop community-based mediation programs which trained volunteers to provide mediation services instead of taking their conflicts to court. In this role, she trained mediators as well as mediation trainers. When she left her court position to move from Massachusetts to Maine, she expanded her interests from mediation to mixed media, and began to paint in oils and watercolor, as well as serve as a conflict resolution consultant/coach for the Harvard School of Public Health and the Harvard Kennedy School in Cambridge, Massachusetts. In 2013 she returned to Boston and with a three-country team, (France, Canada and the USA) co-authored and co-edited a book, The Essential Mary Parker Follett: Ideas We Need Today. Additionally, she wrote an article for the Negotiation Journal which explored Follett's influence on James E. Webb, the Administrator of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) during the period when the USA geared up to put a man on the moon. 

Get in touch with Albie via albiedavis@aol.com


E2: Show notes

by Pedro Monteiro

These are some of the things we discussed in Episode 2 on General and Industrial Management (Chapter 4) by Henri Fayol.

The Origins of Organization Theory. Some of the podcasters think that although Fayol speaks of ‘management’, he is also foundational to organization theory given the specific view of the corporation as a distinctive arrangement. Indeed, there are many insights on organization design in the text. 

Principles: Packaged Deal or Baselines? Opinions were split on whether the text has a tentative nature, open to expansion and further work, or a more authoritative presenting a recipe to be followed. This is probably because Fayol was writing for something that did not exist (in a codified manner) which would perhaps explain the need to be imposing; nevertheless, capturing his experience in the book made possible the development of discussions on management and organizations.

Principles without Proofs. The vagueness of the text at times places Fayol close to pop management books – indeed some researchers attribute to him the origin of management fashions (Brunsson, 2008). This lack of evidence brings the question: Why should we trust him? Just because of his credentials? Compared to someone like Taylor, Fayol falls short in examples and hard proofs.

Principles as Ideals: The 'What' Without The 'How'. We all agree that the principles appear a bit idealized. He never explains how to get to the situations described in the principles. This is perhaps because Fayol takes a top-down perspective given his high place in the corporation he worked. Plus, at times, it seems the author equates being a good manager with being a good (or super) man. Indeed, the extent managers should be involved in technical work is unclear.

Fayol and Unitarism. We discovered that Fayol views organizations in a unitarist perspective. The assumption is that organizations only exist as a harmonious ‘whole’ in which there is no place for divergences and everything moves towards one (best) direction. The problem is that by ignoring conflict he simply has nothing to say on how to achieve/maintain such harmony or address possible disagreements. Our research and work experience (similar to the one of most people) is that competing agendas abound and sometimes decisions require trade-offs in which final dividends are only partially known.

The Manager for Fayol is a Status Quo Agent in a Static Context. Perhaps this unitarist perspectives is linked to the very industry and period Fayol worked – a context of quasi monopoly – making him very much a man of his time. The organization described by Fayol seems to be a static island: competition is not an issue. This is probably why all efforts of Fayol’s manager is to maintain stability with an explicit value placed on tenure. Quite different form the more contemporary mantra of managers as change agents and growing of non-traditional employment schemes.

Economic Interest as Only Goal. Another ‘dated’ idea in the work of Fayol seems to be the reductive assumption that economic interests are the only goal of organizations. This lightly upset some of us who believe on the relevance of shareholder value.

Control as an Enduring Element in Management. Fayol seems more ‘modern’ in issues that defy the passage of time by definition – or so it seems. Although he appears to value in some passages to the importance of empowerment in the workforce, a spirit of ‘command and control’ runs through his text. Constant supervision and applying sanctions are essential in the routine of managers as described by Fayol. We certainly know more of the importance of incentives in relation to work motivation today, but supervision instruments have arguably only expanded. Examples in our discussion included the use of internet filtering or CCTV which reflect classic ideas of surveillance well-discussed by Foucault via the panopticon idea (see below).

Espirit de Corps: The Roots of Organizational Culture and Communities of Practice. During the discussion, we discovered that the notion of spirit de corps can be read both as the origin of ideas around organizational culture/shared values which populated management discussions in the 90s and is also as linked to the idea of communities of practice. Another brilliantly contemporary idea of Fayol is his discussion on the ‘abuse of written communication’ which we know so well in this age of email.

What would Fayol say about Matrix Organizations? Regarding the famous and widely debated issue of whether Fayol would approve a matrix organization – in light of his notion of unity of command – we actually found that his principle is not completely in contradiction with a matrix structure. In that principle, the examples are mostly about how jurisdictions should be clear among departments and the insistence that top leaders should not overstep middle-management authority over employees.  

References

Brunsson, K. H. (2008). Some Effects of Fayolism. International Studies of Management and Organization, 38(1), 30–47.

Foucault, M. (1977). Discipline and punish: The birth of the prison. Vintage.

Images of the Panopticon


 

Hooked on Classics

by Christopher Grey

Organization studies has a peculiar relationship with history, including its own history. On the one hand, it routinely invokes woefully inadequate claims about history (new eras, unprecedented developments and so on). On the other hand, it makes ludicrous claims about its own history - the narrative of scientific management giving way to human relations theory (discussed in the book) being an obvious example. On the third hand, it ignores and is ignorant of history, so that many a supposedly cutting-edge research paper simply replicates, without any awareness of so doing, things that have been known for decades.

These failures are not, at least as regards the first and second cases, necessarily meaningless. They reflect, in part anyway, the ideological operations of organization studies as a handmaiden of managerialism, suggesting, in the first case, that there is an underlying logic that justifies managerialism and, in the second case, that managerialism is part of a specifically progressive logic. In other words, what is by scholarly standards bad history is not simply understandable in terms of bad scholarship.

But what about the third case? Here I think that there at least four factors in play. One is that those conducting research in organization studies (myself included) are often not trained in that discipline, but in something else, such as economics, sociology, anthropology, or, as in my case, politics. Thus there is less sense of a socialization into a canon than might be the case. That is changing, as more people come through an organization studies training, but that may not make much difference because of the other factors. These are, first, that the notion of a ‘classical canon’ is anathema to the postmodern sensibility that has been influential in recent organization studies, at least in Europe. Second, that because most organization studies takes place in business schools, which are typically culturally in thrall to the new, classic studies are easily dismissed as old hat. And, third, because the pressure to publish supposedly novel contributions – especially ‘theoretical’ contributions – disinclines researchers to seek out or admit to the classical roots of their discipline.

Yet against that background, I have a sense that things are beginning to change. Consider, for example, John Hassard’s (2012) superb analysis of the Hawthorne Studies, adding significant historical flesh to the point in my book (p.41) about the continuities and interconnections between ‘scientific management’ and ‘human relations’. Or Ellen O’Connor’s (2011) re-appropriation of the lost foundations of management and organization studies.

This optimistic sense has been provoked by two things over the last week or so. One was attending a seminar by Paul du Gay where he presented his (2015) paper ‘Organization (Theory) as a Way of Life’, which not only makes out the case for re-considering ‘classical organization theory’, but also mounts a robust challenge to the metaphysical theoreticism of recent organization studies. The other was learning of an initiative by a group of doctoral students in organization studies to read and discuss classic texts. The podcasts of these discussions on the Talking about Organizations website are enthralling and sophisticated dissections of (so far) the writings of Taylor, Fayol and Maslow.

Although, of course, I would not compare my own work with that of those mentioned here, I do see it as having some affinity with what they are doing. I, too, am dismayed by theoreticism and am also seeking to re-connect with classical writings and traditions in organization studies, both in my book on the organization of Bletchley Park (Grey, 2012) and my forthcoming book on secrecy (Costas and Grey, 2016).

I am sure that many other writers, not referenced here, are trying to do something similar. I certainly hope so because although I don’t suppose the first two ways that organization studies relates to history are redeemable, the third surely is.

References

Costas, J. & Grey, C. (2016) Secrecy at Work. The Hidden Architecture of Organizational Life. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

Du Gay, P. (2015) ‘Organization (Theory) as a Way of Life’, Journal of Cultural Economy 8 (4): 399-417.

Grey, C. (2012) Decoding Organization. Bletchley Park, Codebreaking and Organization Studies. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Hassard J. (2012) 'Rethinking the Hawthorne Studies: The Western Electric Research in its Social, Political and Historical Context', Human Relations 65 (11): 1431-1461. 

O’Connor, E. (2011) Creating New Knowledge in Management. Appropriating the Field’s Lost Foundations. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.


This blog post has originally appeared on Chris Grey's blog and has been syndicated here with his kind permission. Chris is a fantastic author and researcher, and his work is what got Dmitrijs into organization studies in the first place, so do check him out in the unlikely case that you haven't yet! One of his books, A Very Short, Fairly Interesting and Reasonably Cheap Book About Studying Organizations first published by Sage in 2005, is now in its third edition and has been translated into Chinese, Portuguese, Russian and Swedish.

Preview of Episode 2: General and Industrial Management (H. Fayol, 1949)

by Ralph Soule

You may well be surprised to learn that long before Deming wrote his 14 points, Henri Fayol (1841–1925) identified 14 Principles of Management. There are many similarities between the two lists. Like Deming, Fayol’s interest was improving management.

Fayol was a successful turnaround specialist of his day. When he became the Director of Commentry-Fourchambault in 1888, the company was in serious financial peril. However, thanks to the application of his ideas and the help of people he had previously trained, the company experienced a dramatic reversal of fortune. Listen to E2S: Episode 2 Supplement (released 27 Oct 2015) to find out more!

Fayol synthesized his theories of management in organizations from his personal experience. He believed it was possible to improve efficiency in organizations through improved managerial practices, but he was at a loss as to why such practices were not taught in formal educational establishments. Lack of management theory was identified as a culprit so, in order to rectify this, Fayol outlined a theory of general management in his book General and Industrial Management (1949), first published in French in 1916. 

In Episode 2 (released 3 Nov 2015), we will discuss Fayol’s theories and a flexible approach to management that he claimed could be applied to any circumstance. Like F. W. Taylor, Fayol’s 14 Principles are now considered to be common sense, but only because they are part of common practice that he helped establish. At the time Fayol wrote, they were revolutionary concepts for organizational management (because management was dominated by various engineers and associated mechanistic assumptions about work and production).

While you are waiting for Episode 2, why not take the time to familiarize yourself with Fayol’s ideas? The links below offer several very accessible sources for doing so. Alternatively, listen to E2S: Supplement to Episode 2 (released 27 Oct 2015) for a summary of the reading. You can then listen to us hold forth on what we think about Fayol’s theories and follow along!

Links for Further Reading

Chapter IV, (subject reading for Episode 2) of General and Industrial Management (Fayol, 1949)

A summary of Fayol’s 14 principles and 5 elements of management. The webpage also compares and contrasts Fayol and F. W. Taylor, just as we might in the podcast.

Many other links can be found by searching with the term “Fayol's administrative theory” in Google or other search engine of your preference!

 

Your kitchen probably comes from F.W. Taylor!

by Pedro Monteiro

It might sound strange at first, but the impact of Taylor's ideas went way beyond factory work and production! The attention for optimizing work activities was taken up by numerous others, the Gilbreth couple perhaps being the most famous ones. Indeed, they conducted series of time and motion studies, using film usually, to investigate and redesign tasks in all kinds of settings. Lillian Gilbreth, in particular, applied this approach to domestic work in order to make it safer, more efficient and ergonomically appropriate – pioneering user-centered design in the process. If anyone ever said you cannot find the ‘one best way’ to bathe kids, they probably never raised 12 children! Lillian's ideas and patents include currently ubiquitous designs such as placing shelves inside refrigerator doors and equipping trash bins with a foot-pedal operated lid-opener. Most importantly, she originated the "kitchen work triangle" concept: the space connecting sink, cooktop and the refrigerator. If you have a kitchen with four walls it probably follows that pattern in one way or another! 

E1: Show notes

These are the show notes for Episode 1 where we discussed F.W. Taylor's 1911 work The Principles of Scientific Management. By all rights this is one of the most important texts in management and organization studies, setting the foundation for what would become the management class and describing, in detail, how to apply systematic measurement techniques to the organizing of individuals in the workplace. 

Read More

Greetings!

Coming together is a beginning; keeping together is progress; working together is success.
— Henry Ford

Today is a significant event for the four of us as we summon the courage and trip over with excitement to bring Talking About Organizations to you, our listeners. To be sure, coming together was a beginning for us. A tangible beginning when we sat down by our microphones to record that first episode some of us never even having met!

We are very different in many ways, which is something that we think will make our conversations worth listening to, but we do share a common passion for making this podcast in a very particular way. To put it simply, we want to create something for the betterment of our community and of interested people in general. To find out more about us, please refer to Episode 0. Primarily, all of us want to bring forth new ideas from iconic texts on which management and organization studies so comfortably rest. Many of the texts we are going to read are famous. And many are persistently unread. As we recognize this we must confess that we are usually with those who know about but do not read. But this is what is going to make this interesting...

We are not experts in the vast majority of texts we will read. We are probably experts, or at least recognizably knowledgeable,  in other things. We have not studied the texts on our agenda. We have most certainly read so much about them. Some of us have decades of experience while others develop theory for a living. And everything in between. 

The beauty of this podcast is that we are going to be reading the texts we pick just a week or two before discussing them. As we talk about, and reflect on, our impressions of them and work through some of the things we did not understand or found interesting that very familiar conversational magic will occur. You know, the one when you spot that thing you never thought of while talking to an educated friend or colleague. That is what we are here for. This is what we do. And we want you to have the opportunity to do it too, through listening to us. 

As we progress forward we are going to have guests and special discussion. We are going to talk to experts or very colourful individuals, or frequently both. We will discuss canonical classics and we will talk about books and TV series. We will have fun and, hopefully, so will you! Talk to us on TwitterLinkedIn or Facebook and we will make this podcast together. Because we recognize that you, our dear listener, is just as much part of the conversation as we are. And we can only succeed if we learn and manage to work together!

We hope you are going to love this as much as we do! And if you do, please leave us a lovely review (those help a lot!) and tell your friends to check us out.

Finally, please consider supporting us by sporting this amazing, limited edition podcast t-shirt that we offer you at cost price. 

Please enjoy!

 

Warmest wishes,

Dmitrijs, Ralph, Pedro & Miranda