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Organization as a machine - metaphor

One of the useful aspects of a "machine" is that it usually has a way to turn it on or off, and some more or less relatively easy controls to make it behave. When we think about an organization as a machine, it's not so easy to visualize what the "switches" might be.

1. If you're thinking about your organization -- or any organization -- as a machine, what features of it might be considered as the equivalent of the control switches?

2. In other words, how do its managers "tune its performance" to make it behave like a good smoothly-functioning machine?

3. What are the "levers" that get pulled to keep the components working together?

4. And does thinking about such organizational controls as "switches" or "levers" help you understand how they're being used, or does it just confuse the issue?

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1. One of the useful aspects of a "machine" is that it usually has a way to turn it on or off, and some more or less relatively easy controls to make it behave. When we think about an organization as a machine, it's not so easy to visualize what the "switches" might be. If you're thinking about your organization -- or any organization -- as a machine, what features of it might be considered as the equivalent of the control switches? In other words, how do its managers "tune its performance" to make it behave like a good smoothly-functioning machine? What are the "levers" that get pulled to keep the components working together?

The machine metaphor takes an objective view of an organization in which the interactions among the elements are predictable and controllable. Given that premise, organizational leaders take a mechanistic view of organizational management. The mechanistic view considers the organization as a combination of manageable components with organizational charts, job descriptions, policies, operational plans, people, etc. These are TUNED and controlled through evaluation and inspections and maintenance of the components and thus the levers are pulled to keep the components working together. The machine metaphor is based on an organizational management belief that effective management can be realized by managing all organizational components.Would the people running the machines be the levers to manage and control? (http://ezinearticles.com/?The-Role-of-the-Machine-Metaphor-in-Mixed-initiative-Organizational-Leadership&id=59738)

2. And does thinking about such organizational controls as "switches" or "levers" help you understand how they're being used, or does it just confuse the issue?

The machine metaphor is good for efficiency, but not so useful in people management that is entrenched in our social and organizational systems. This means that it is very important for organizational leaders to know that machine control techniques apply to things, not people. Except for the military, we manage things; wee lead people. In fact, the role of a manager is to provide a rich and rewarding environment to enable workers to do their work. A human being is an agent in an organizational context, whose behavior is unpredictable. The agent must interact with other human agents, within a team, whose behavior is also unpredictable. The team must interact with other teams in a department. Next, we have inter-departmental interactions, which can lead to inter-divisional interactions, and so on. In other words, this network of interactions is a complex organization, which must adapt to its environment to survive-as a living system. As articulated by Richard T. Pascale, Mark Millemann, and Linda Gioja in their book: Surfing the Edge of Chaos, (Random House, 2000), as a living system, the organization must abide by "the laws ...

Solution Summary

By responding to the questions, this solution addresses aspects of the organization as a machine metaphor e.g. what features are the control switches, how to fine tune the machine, what levers get pulled to keep the components working together, and does this metaphor help when thinking about an organization. Supplemented with an article identifying the characteristics of various organizational metaphors, e.g. machine, organism, person, group, family, and dynasty. References are provided.

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