A decline of a machine-like organization

Sami Jantunen, Erica Svärd, Tapio Koivisto

    Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference abstract in proceedingsScientific


    A process of organizational decline occurs when an organization moves towards death, i.e. a situation, when an organization can no longer perform its functions and, therefore, the organization no longer exists (Heine & Rindfl eich, 2013, Sheppard, 1994). Typically declining organizations face problems with increasing confl icts, secrecy, scapegoating, self-protective behaviours, rigidity, and turnover and decreases in morale, innovativeness, participation, and long-term planning (Cameron et al.,1987). Organizational decline may occur due to a fi rm’s failure to properly respond to changes in the environment or to the decline of an industry in general (Heine & Rindfl eich, 2013). When the underlying challenge is fi rm’s failure to adapt successfully to the environment, it is useful to understand organizational dynamics by using metaphors. The use of metaphor implies a way of thinking and a way of seeing. A metaphor can potentially create powerful insights, but it can also result with thinking that is biased, incomplete and distorted. Hence, a metaphor can also become a way of not seeing (Morgan, 1997). Even though the conditions for organizations are changing with ever increasing pace, many argue (e.g. Hamel, 2009; Palmberg 2009) that one particular metaphor still dominates management today. This metaphor, resting on the foundations of Fayol, Mooney, Urwick, and Taylor, guides us to see organizations as machines that are made up of interlocking parts, each playing a clearly defi ned role in the functioning of the whole (Morgan, 1997). Organizations that see themselves as machines coordinate their activities primarily with processes that seek effi ciency when dealing with stable problems. At times, this can prove highly effective; at others, it can have many unfortunate results. Machine-like organizations have been found to have clear limitations, many of which we are already well aware. In particular, coordination with standardized procedures: a) can create organizational forms that have great diffi culty in adapting to changing circumstances; b) can result in mindless and unquestioning bureaucracy; c) can have unanticipated and undesirable consequences as the interest of those working in the organization take precedence over the goals the organization was designed to achieve; and d) can have dehumanizing effects upon employees, especially those at the lower levels of the organizational hierarchy. (Morgan, 1997). This paper explores one machine-like organization that offered call center services to its clients. The business of the case company has gradually declined and the organization has now ceased to exist. By analysing data consisting of 7 interviews and a survey with 28 respondents, the paper illustrates 1) how organization as a machine has been the primary metaphor guiding the management activities in the case company and 2) how the machine-like management style has eventually resulted with declining monetary and human resources. The paper makes a contribution by 1) providing a real-life illustration of organizational decline, 2) conceptualizing the decline of the case company, and 3) making explicit false assumptions that have guided the case company towards machine-like management and eventually towards the death of the organization. The fi ndings of the paper are useful also in a wider context. The paper illustrates how the mechanical way of thinking is so ingrained in our everyday conceptions of organization that it is often very diffi cult to organize in any other way. Firms seem to be suffering from “Paradigm paralysis” (Couger, 1996), an inability or refusal to see beyond the current models of thinking. The conceptualization of the organizational decline, described in this paper, can be seen as a tool for helping fi rms to overcome paradigm paralysis and increase the possibility to avoid organizational decline.
    Original languageEnglish
    Title of host publicationWORK2015 - Abstracts
    PublisherUniversity of Turku
    ISBN (Print)978-951-29-5895-5
    Publication statusPublished - 2015
    EventWORK2015 - New Meanings of Work - Turku, Finland
    Duration: 19 Aug 201521 Aug 2015


    ConferenceWORK2015 - New Meanings of Work
    Abbreviated titleWORK2015

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    Jantunen, S., Svärd, E., & Koivisto, T. (2015). A decline of a machine-like organization. In WORK2015 - Abstracts [156] University of Turku. http://www.utu.fi/en/units/tcls/sites/work2015/Documents/WORK_Abstract% 20book_WEB.pdf