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The coxswain is responsible for steering the shell, but also serves as captain. Coxswains vocally determine both the rate and degree of power of the oar strokes. They know their rowers physically and psychologically and how to inspire their best efforts. They also know opponents’ strengths and weaknesses. Before a race, the coxswain develops a strategy but must be ready to alter it as a situation demands. A good coxswain is “a quarterback, a cheerleader, and a coach all in one. He or she is a deep thinker, canny like a fox, inspirational, and in many cases the toughest person in the boat” (Brown, 2014, p. 232).
The individual efforts are also integrated by shared agreement that the team effort transcends the individual. All rowers have to optimize their strokes for the bene!t of the boat. Coordination and cooperation among individuals of different statures and strengths assures the uni!ed and beautiful symphony that a crew in motion becomes. In crew racing competition, structure is vital to top performance.
Structure is equally critical in larger organizations. Jeff Bezos, one of the world’s most admired CEOs, is passionate about structure and process at the company he founded, Internet giant Amazon. He makes the company’s strategy crystal clear. Embracing the familiar credo that the “customer is always right,” Bezos is riveted on !guring out what the customer wants and delivering it with speed and precision. His “culture of metrics” coddles Amazon’s 250 million shoppers, not its quarter million employees.
Amazon tracks its performance against some 500 measurable goals; almost 80 percent relate directly to customer service. Even the smallest delay in loading aWeb page is carefully scrutinized, because Amazon has found that “. . . a .01 second delay in page rendering can translate into a 1 percent drop in customer activity” (Anders, 2012). Supervisors measure and monitor employees’ performance, observing behavior closely to see where steps or movements can be streamlined to improve ef!ciency.
Amazon is a classic example of a highly developed organizational structure—clear strategy, focus on the mission, well-de!ned roles, and top-down coordination. Some employees grumble about the working conditions and the fast pace, but many others !nd the tempo exhilarating. Bezos makes it clear: The customer is number one. Period. Amazon began as an online bookstore, but now it sells almost anything that can be shipped or downloaded. The company lost money for many years after its founding in 1995. But in recent years, it has been consistently pro!table, and its 2015 annual report noted that it had achieved $100 billion in sales faster than any company in history (Amazon, 2015).
The bene!ts of getting structure right are obvious under normal conditions and even more so when organizational architecture meets unexpected crises. Recall the horror of 9/11 and the breakdown in coordination between New York City’s !re and police departments as they confronted the aftermath of terrorist strikes on the World Trade Center. That day saw
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countless inspiring examples of individual heroism and personal sacri!ce. At the risk of their own lives, emergency personnel rescued thousands of people. Many died in the effort. But extraordinary individual efforts were hindered or thwarted by breakdowns in com- munication, command, and control. Police helicopters near the north tower radioed that it was near collapse more than twenty minutes before it fell. Police of!cers got the warning, and most escaped. But there was no link between !re and police radios, and the commanders in the two departments could not communicate because their command posts were three blocks apart. It might not have helped even if they had talked, because the !re department’s radios were notoriously unreliable in high-rise buildings.
The breakdown of communication and coordination magni!ed the death toll— including 121 !re!ghters who died when the north tower collapsed. The absence of a workable structure undermined the heroic efforts of highly dedicated, skilled professionals who gave their all in an unprecedented catastrophe (Dwyer, Flynn, and Fessenden, 2002).
The contrast between Amazon’s operations and the rescue efforts at the World Trade Center highlights a core premise of the structural lens. The right combination of goals, roles, relationships, and coordination is essential to organizational performance. This is true of all organizations: families, clubs, hospitals, military units, businesses, schools, churches, and public agencies. The right structure combats the risk that individuals, however talented, will become confused, ineffective, apathetic, or hostile. The purpose of this chapter and the next two is to identify the basic ideas and inner workings of a perspective that is fundamental to collective human endeavors.
We begin our examination of the structural frame by highlighting its core assumptions, origins, and basic forms. The possibilities for designing an organization’s social architecture are almost limitless, but any option must address two key questions: How do we allocate responsibilities across different units and roles? And, once we’ve done that, how do we integrate diverse efforts in pursuit of common goals? In this chapter, we explain these basic issues, describe the major options, and discuss imperatives to consider when designing a structure to !t the challenges of a unique situation.
STRUCTURAL ASSUMPTIONS The central beliefs of the structural frame re”ect con!dence in rationality and faith that a suitable array of roles and responsibilities will minimize distracting personal static and maximize people’s performance on the job. Where the human resource approach (to be discussed in Chapters 6 through 8) emphasizes dealing with issues by changing people (through coaching, training, rotation, promotion, or dismissal), the structural perspective
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argues for putting people in the right roles and relationships. Properly designed, these formal arrangements support and accommodate both collective goals and individual differences.
Six assumptions undergird the structural frame:
1.� Organizations exist to achieve established goals and objectives and devise strategies to reach those goals.
2.� Organizations increase ef!ciency and enhance performance through specialization and appropriate division of labor.
3.� Suitable forms of coordination and control ensure that diverse efforts of individuals and units mesh.
4.� Organizations work best when rationality prevails over personal agendas and extra- neous pressures.
5.� Effective structure !ts an organization’s current circumstances (including its strategy, technology, workforce, and environment).
6.� When performance suffers from structural “aws, the remedy is problem solving and restructuring.
ORIGINS OF THE STRUCTURAL PERSPECTIVE The structural view has two principal intellectual roots. The !rst is the work of industrial analysts bent on designing organizations for maximum ef!ciency. The most prominent of these, FrederickW. Taylor (1911), was the father of time-and-motion studies; he founded an approach that he labeled “scienti!c management.” Taylor broke tasks into minute parts and retrained workers to get the most from each motion and moment spent at work. Other theorists who contributed to the scienti!c management approach (Fayol,  1949; Urwick, 1937; Gulick and Urwick, 1937) developed principles focused on specialization, span of control, authority, and delegation of responsibility.
A second pioneer of structural ideas was the German economist and sociologist Max Weber, who wrote around the beginning of the twentieth century. At the time, formal organization was a relatively new phenomenon. Patriarchy rather than rationality was still the primary organizing principle. A father !gure—who ruled with almost unlimited authority and power—dominated patriarchal organizations. He could reward, punish, promote, or !re on personal whim. Seeing an evolution of new structural models in late-nineteenth-century Europe, Weber described “monocratic bureaucracy” as an ideal
48 Reframing Organizations
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form that maximized ef!ciency and norms of rationality. His model outlined several major features that were relatively novel at the time, although they are commonplace now:
• A !xed division of labor
• A hierarchy of of!ces
• A set of rules governing performance
• A separation of personal from of!cial property and rights
• The use of technical quali!cations (not family ties or friendship) for selecting personnel
• Employment as primary occupation and long-term career (Weber, 1947)
After World War II, Blau and Scott (1962), Perrow (1986), Thompson (1967), Lawrence and Lorsch (1967), Hall (1963), and others rediscoveredWeber’s ideas. Their work inspired a substantial body of theory and research amplifying the bureaucratic model. They examined relationships among the elements of structure, looked closely at why organiza- tions develop one structure over another, and analyzed the effects of structure on morale, productivity, and effectiveness.
Greatest Hits from Organization Studies Hit Number 5: James D. Thompson, Organizations in Action: Social Science Bases of Administrative Theory (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1967)
“Organizations act, but what determines how and when they will act?” (p. 1). That guiding question opens Thompson’s compact, tightly reasoned book. He answers that “organizations do some of the basic things they do because they must—or else! Because they are expected to produce results, their actions are expected to be reasonable, or rational” (p. 1). As Thompson sees them, organizations operate under “norms of rationality,” but uncertainty makes rationality hard to achieve. “Uncertainties pose major challenges to rationality, and we will argue that technologies and environments are basic sources of uncertainty for organizations. How these facts of organizational life lead organizations to design and structure themselves needs to be explored” (p. 1).
Thompson looked for a way to meld two distinct ways of thinking about organizations. One was to see them as closed, rational systems (as in Taylor’s scienti!c management and Weber’s theory of bureaucracy). The second viewed them as open, natural systems in which “survival of the system is taken to be the goal, and the parts and their relationships are presumably determined through evolutionary processes” (p. 6). Thompson tried to build on a “newer tradition” emerging from the work of March and Simon (1958, number 8 of our greatest hits in organization studies) and Cyert and March (1963, number 3). This tradition viewed organizations as “problem facing and problem solving” in a context of limited information and capacities.
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With these premises, Thompson developed a series of propositions about how organizations design and manage themselves as they seek rationality in an uncertain world. The two primary sources of uncertainty, in his view, are technology and the environment. He distinguished three kinds of technology—pooled, sequential, and reciprocal—each making different demands on communication and coordination. Because demands and intrusions from the environment threaten ef!ciency, organizations try to increase their ability to anticipate and control the environment and attempt to insulate their technical core from environmental “uctuations. Still another source of uncertainty is the “variable human.” The more uncertainty an organization faces, the more discretion individuals need to cope with it, but there is the risk that discretion will run amok. “Paradoxically, the administrative process must reduce uncertainty but at the same time search for “exibility” (Thompson, pp. 157–158).