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Questioning Organizational Realities

In light of the analysis developed thus far in the chapter, there are a set of fundamental questions we should ask in reflecting on the limiting conditions within which we work:

  • To what extent is there a struggle for power underway in the organization?

  • To what extent must we deal with "power hungry" individuals?

  • What is the hierarchy of power in the organization? To what extent are those at the top easily threatened by thinking that diverges from their own?

  • How does the organization present itself both within and without? Are there any important contradictions or inconsistencies between the two? To what extent do inconsistencies exist between how the organization represents itself and how it actually functions?

  • To what extent is short-range thinking dominant in the organization?

  • To what extent is there a problem of bureaucratic inefficiency within the organization?

  • To what extent is there a problematic "ideology" that stands in the way of change?

  • To what extent is the organization forced to compete meaningfully with other organizations?

  • To what extent is the organization suffering from stagnation?

  • To what extent is bad short-term thinking misleading the leadership of the organization?

  • To what extent are ethical considerations ignored or denied in favor of vested interest within the organization?

Test the Idea Dealing with Reality

Think through the questions listed above focusing on the organization for which you work, or on an organization for which you worked in the past.

Now, using the elements of thought, we can refine or follow-up on the background questions we just asked:

  • Purpose. What is the announced purpose or mission of this organization? To what extent is the announced purpose or mission an accurate characterization of the actual functioning of this organization? What is your personal mission in this organization? How does it relate to the actual functioning of the organization? What is the personal agenda of those immediately above you in the organization? To what extent do those agendas serve the announced purpose of the organization? To what extent is it consistent with your agenda?

  • Problems. What kinds of problems does the organization have to solve to function effectively? What expertise or special skills do you have with respect to those problems? To what extent can you help the organization solve the problems it has? What are the main problems the organization tends to focus on? To what extent are these problems the most important ones facing the organization?

  • Information. What kinds of information or factual data does the organization need to function effectively and solve the problems that it exists to solve? What role do you have to play with respect to those information-gathering processes? How skilled are you in analyzing and evaluating information gathered? What information do you need to take into account to understand what is going on in this organization? How much of the information is made explicit? How much of it is buried behind the scenes? What is the announced distribution of power in the organization? To what extent is the announced distribution of power an accurate characterization of the actual functioning of this organization? What power do you have within the organization? How can you gain more power and influence within it? What important information, if any, is being ignored by those in power? What problems are being ignored or under-estimated?

  • Key Concepts. What are the key concepts or ideas that underlie the mission or day-to-day activities of the organization? To what extent are there conflicting concepts or ideas vying for the allegiance of members of the organization? How do these ideas relate to those who wield the most power in the organization?

  • Conclusions. Given the way the organization functions day-to-day, what is the thinking that is driving the organization? What "conclusions" or "solutions" are incorporated in organizational practice?

  • Assumptions. What are some of the key assumptions that underlie the dominant thinking of the organization? What are the key assumptions underlying your thinking in the organization? Which are most questionable?

  • Implications. What are the long-term implications of the organization continuing in the direction it is now headed? What are some implications for you if you remain with the organization?

  • Point of View. What is the dominant point of view in the organization? What other possible ways to look at things ought to be considered? Is leadership open to considering alternative ways of thinking? How does your point of view relate to the dominant organizational viewpoint?

Each of these questions, taken seriously, enables us to think more accurately and realistically about the organization and the role we might seek to play. They enable us to form the big picture, to put things into a larger perspective, to adopt goals and strategies that make sense. They make it possible to protect ourselves.

Test the Idea Dealing with Reality II

Spend some time pondering the questions in the section you just read. The idea is that the more time we spend analyzing the logic of the organizations within which we work, the better we can function within them (assuming our analysis does not imply we should leave).

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