Saturday, 12 July 2014

Welcome to the Machine - Organisational Conflict

This post is meant to capture some recent learning I have been doing into leading and managing schools. The thoughts below are derived from my final assignment for my Master's in Educational Leadership. I have been learning about the functionalist or positivist paradigm to organisational administration. This refers to the old way of organisational structure and contains theories such as the radical structuralist, living organism, new systems theory and chaos theory. The opposite to this approach is the interpretative paradigm which will also be looked at in this post.

Some of the assumptions within the functionalist perspective are:

Epistemology - Knowledge is known, objective, quantifiable and linear.

Ontology - The social and organizational world is an objective phenomenon. It exists as a material, concrete entity external to the individual. Reality is found in the concrete behavior and relationships between the constituent parts of the organization.

Human nature - At the extreme objectivist end of this dimension, the nature of humans is seen as; we are stimulated and respond. Drawing on the theory of Maslow, humans have needs and will react or be motivated according to how these needs are met, or not. The work of McGregor built on Maslow’s theory of needs by suggesting humans react either by the carrot and stick or Theory X approach, which suggests subordinates are passive and lazy, prefer to be led and resist change, or his Theory Y, which believes, on the other hand, that conditions can be created which enable workers to attain their goals by directing their efforts to organisational rewards. This will give them satisfaction in their work.

Society - Society as being made up of parts which perform a particular function in the operation of the whole. Within organisational society, there is a structure of authority and status positions and roles, the structure being characterized by an orderly set of social arrangements. Within the functionalist paradigm, the order and stability of society rest on the parts of, and social system working together to achieve common objectives.

Many organisations seem to be run in this kind of manner. Have you ever seen an organisational chart like the one below? At the top, there is a leader. Under her are lower level managers and line managers and, at the bottom, the soldiers, or teaching staff. The diagram below is actually the structure of the Pakistani Army!

The other end of the spectrum is the interpretative paradigm. The interpretive paradigm, sometimes referred to as phenomenology, is founded on the assumption that physical reality and social reality are separate and distinct from one another. Most interpretive theorists accept, with respect to physical reality, that the physical world exists exclusive of the existence of the individual; that it is made up of objects and matter; and that these are subject to physical laws. As regards social reality, interpretive theorists hold that the social world exists as a function of individual consciousness. Individuals perceive social situations and so give them their existence and their meaning. Furthermore, actors are impelled to act in the social world and, in doing so, contribute to the construction of social reality.

Some of the assumptions within the functionalist perspective are:

Epistemology from the interpretative perspective sees the nature of knowledge as being something people carry in their minds. It is subjective and qualitative. Knowledge is something we are given or something we learn through socialisation. From the postmodern perspective, which is another alternative to functionalism, knowledge is considered to be power. In fact, according to Lyotard, knowledge and power are two sides of the same question: who decides what knowledge is, and who knows what needs to be decided? Technology plays a large part in the shaping and distribution of knowledge and, if distributed fairly among nations, has the potential to empower developing nations. Knowledge from the interpretative perspective involves some deep thinking, as does the nature of reality.

Ontology, from the interpretive perspective, considers physical reality and social reality as being separate and distinct from one another. Physical reality exists exclusive of the existence of the individual. It is made up of objects and matter and these are subject to physical laws. Interpretive theorists hold that the social world exists as a function of individual consciousness. Individuals perceive social situations and so give them their existence and their meaning. Individuals are impelled to act in the social world and, in doing so, contribute to the construction of social reality.  Organisations are considered to be the social construction of reality in the interpretative paradigm. Organising is a process of communicating and it is communicating that creates social structures which become reality.

From the interpretative perspective, humans desire meaning to their work. In preindustrial society, work was performed in the same community setting where people lived. Consequently, people knew one another and saw the connection between their work and how it benefited the rest of the community. The industrial era separated work from the community and created the bureaucracy to house, organise, and control work. Chalofski and Krishna suggest that people find purpose when they experience freedom to be exactly who they are in a fluid and changing manner. People strive to attain goals to satisfy their emotions and desires. Recently the economic downturn, which began in 2007/2008, has been causing tremendous turmoil in employment. Despite this, new young professionals are still expressing a preference to work for socially responsible, ethically driven organizations that allow the “whole self” to be brought to work.

The earliest origins of the interpretive paradigm occur in the writings of the German philosopher Husserl. Husserl stated that, instead of society with its norms and values having objective existence, like some physical object, and being somehow imposed on individuals, society is really a product of the subjective mental processes of its members. It is the mental processes of individuals that shape the social world. Every individual is born into an objective social structure within which he encounters the significant others who are in charge of his socialisation. The individual not only takes on the roles and attitudes of others, but, in the same process, takes on their world. Primary socialisation is obtained from one’s family, while secondary socialization, or the acquisition of role-specific knowledge, is obtained in a school or other organisation. Organisational culture may be passed on to an employee through secondary socialisation. 

To conclude, I would like to say that the interpretative paradigm is the way to go, however, I believe aspects of the functionalist paradigm are necessary but must be addressed correctly. The interpretative paradigm supports professional learning communities, appreciative inquiry and shared leadership. I have found that teachers coming to work in Asia from other countries often find themselves working in the functionalist paradigm or to use the metaphor of "the machine". They often struggle with the adjustment. My advice to principals is to make things very clear to teachers during the interview process and help them make the right decision before entering the machine.