Navigation: This page 'org.metaphors.html' ---> External Thinking ---> Main Page. HELP. Admin. Contact.

COMMENTS ON ORGANIZATIONAL METAPHORS

Morgan (1986) a number of metaphors that have been proposed for understanding organizations. Here I comment on Morgan's treatment from a Dooyeweerdian point of view.

Morgan suggested eight different metaphors, each of which provides a different way of thinking about organizations, seeing the organization:

The metaphors are grouped into sets, at least by S.D. Green, whose summary of Morgan's ideas I am using. (S.D. Green discussed them from the point of view of briefing in construction projects.) Each metaphor, each way of seeing an organization, is not just a matter of academic curiosity; the way those who have influence in an organization see it, their predominant metaphor, will shape the organization and heavily influence the way it functions. So 'way of seeing' is taken, here, to also include 'way the organization functions'.

Dooyeweerdian Analysis

It is immediately apparent that at least some of the metaphors refer to Dooyeweerdian aspects. Dooyeweerd laid great importance on metaphor, on the analogical relationships between aspects, in which each aspect contains echoes of all the others. Each aspect can therefore be a metaphor for the others, a way of seeing things. In particular, any (multi-aspectual) situation can be seen in terms of a single aspect, and seeing it in this way is valid - though very limited. Valid, as long as it is remembered that such perspective is metaphorical and should never be taken to be the overriding or only valid way of treating the situation, and as long as all the other aspects are immediately brought to bear on any and every decision that has to be made.

So a Dooyeweerdian comment would seem to be compatible with and appropriate to Morgan's approach, and hopefully to enrich it. First, we attempt a correlation between Morgan's ways of seeing organizations, then we suggest at least one way in which it could be enriched by Dooyeweerdian approach.

Let us discuss the metaphors in turn.

So we see that, in spite of the fact that Morgan and Green are discussing quite complex scenarios, there seems to be some correlation between their metaphors and Dooyeweerd's thinking. Indeed, it is likely that where I have shown some ambiguity above a deeper understanding of Morgan's thinking would reveal a clearer correlation.

Enriching Morgan's Metaphors

The question remains, though: can a Dooyeweerdian analysis enrich Morgan's ideas usefully? I think there are three ways in which this is possible.

It can perhaps suggest new ways of seeing organizations, by highlighting aspects that are not mentioned above. For example, the ethical aspect, whose kernel is self-giving love, might suggest an organization as something that does good in its environment.

A second enrichment has been suggested above, that where Morgan might characterise a metaphor in derogatory terms, Dooyeweerd could suggest whether there is in fact some validity lurking behind it that, if it could be discerned and activated, would result in beneficial ways of functioning. It was suggested that this could be applied to the metaphor of the psychic prison. Contrariwise, where Morgan might seem to applaud a way of seeing an organization, Dooyeweerd could suggest what the downside might be.

The third enrichment has also been referred to above. At least Green's version of Morgan's metaphors seems to avoid explicitly stating whether any metaphors are intrinsically bad (though the tone used might do so). Dooyeweerd's concern, with the aspects, is to identify the conditions or norms for 'shalom', that is, for sustainable, long-term success in its widest and richest form. We noticed that Green suggests that the political (power relation) metaphor is counter-productive in its pure form. Dooyeweerd's treatment can explain why this is. While treating people in terms of power relations might be OK as far as the formative aspect is concerned, it goes against the laws of the ethical aspect. Since real life is multi-aspectual, and going against any one relevant aspect will bring about damaging results, this metaphor will inherently bring harm. This suggests that a Dooyeweerdian approach, while similar to Morgan's in some ways, goes further, and distinguishes between 'good' and 'poor' metaphors, ways of seeing organizations, ways in which organizations function.

A fourth enrichment comes from Dooyeweerd's insistence that for healthy functioning all aspects should be kept in balance. Even though it is valid to view a situation (or an organization) via one aspect, such viewing should always be temporary, and be given low priority. The organization should be viewed, and thus steered and managed, from a perspective that spans all aspects and seeks to keep all aspects in balance. This was, perhaps, what was wrong with much of the management consultancy of the 1970s and 1980s: that they applied ideas that were attractive and easy to understand simply because they were drawn from a single aspect.

References

Green S D (1996) "A metaphorical analysis of client organizations and the briefing process", Construction Management and Economics, 14:155-64.
Morgan G (1986) Images of Organization, Sage.
This page is part of a collection of pages that links to various thinkers, within The Dooyeweerd Pages, which explain, explore and discuss Dooyeweerd's interesting philosophy. Email questions or comments would be welcome.

Copyright (c) 2010 Andrew Basden. But you may use this material subject to conditions.

Number of visitors to these pages: Counter. Written on the Amiga and Protext.

Created: First brainstorm-draft 1 December 1999. Last updated: 7 February 2001 copyright, email. 17 June 2010 .nav, .end, rid unet.