Organisational Theories

Subject: Culture
Type: Informative Essay
Pages: 8
Word count: 2030
Topics: Postmodern, Leadership, Management


Organisational theories are essentially different approaches in which business groups can be analysed. An organisation can be defined as social units that are so structured and managed to fulfil a given set of goals or requirements. As opined by Waldo (1978), organisational theory consists of attributes that are “characterised by heterogeneity, vogues, and claims and counterclaims” (Fry and Raadschelders, 2013, p. 100). Since then, the theories have been differentiated even more, and many developments have taken place. Organisational theory cannot be however described as the progression of ideas in an orderly manner, but there are disagreements regarding the uses and purposes of the different theories.

There are three perspectives to organisational theory namely modernist, symbolic interpretive, and post-modern. The approaches in the case of the three perspectives are different when the management of an organisation is concerned. The issues that are to be addressed, namely the organisational culture and the style of supervision, along with the different variables and concepts necessary for maintaining the organisation have major differences.

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Modernist organisational theory

In organisational theory, modernists are those objectivists who emphasise the reality of knowledge. This knowledge is based on both conceptualisation and theorisation, and the results that arise from such actions can be measured directly in terms of profit and loss. An instance of such a situation would be when an organisation invests its capital based on the decisions and guidance of the CEO and earns a generous amount of profit. The modernists acknowledge the existence and power of the five senses, and recognise the data that can be perceived by seeing, hearing, touching, smelling and tasting (Clegg, Kornberger and Pitsis, 2015). This perspective of organisational theory conforms to a set of rules that enable the workers of the organisations to carry out their responsibilities smoothly. However, the attributes of intuition and emotion are not considered by the modernists, and they limit themselves only to what can be evaluated using the five senses (Hatch and Cunliffe, 2013).

The modernists are supportive of the rationalisation of organisational practices, and this is reflected clearly in the research and writings of the many pioneers, dating back to as early as the time of Frederick Taylor and Max Weber. The modernists have the tendency to avoid social processes that are complex in nature and prefer to deal with entities or results that are more organised and simplified. The modernist organisational theory is therefore more focused on enhancing the efficiency of the organisational processes. The rational mind of the modernist is tailored for progress in both productive and scientific aspects. The presumption in such a situation is that the workers’ behaviour is influenced largely by their beliefs, values, attitudes and ideas that they possess, as well as by the extent to which they can share it with others (Clegg, Kornberger and Pitsis, 2015). In other words, change in the underlying attitudes and traits of the employees can bring about significant changes in the management and functioning of an organisation.

In this particular perspective or organisation theory, the belief is that the correlation between the performance of the organisation, and the strength and validity of the corporate culture is positive in nature (Grey, 2008). The organisational culture for a modernist is strong and the focus is on the unanimous agreement of the workers regarding any situation. The modernists are more concerned with getting the employees to agree to a common term, and strongly believe that the corporate culture has the strength to significantly impact the performance of an organisation. In a modernist organisation, the individuals share a common goal, and the argument is that the external factors have the capacity to affect the functioning of the organisation (Grey, 2008). When the organisation has been able to successfully incorporate the transformation or change, the performance of the organisation can improve while the effectiveness could be reduced if the people are unable to adapt to the changes. The assumption in this case is that the workers have access to a structure that helps them to achieve and accomplish the organisational goals (Hatch, 2011).

The typical modernist perspective organisation is one where the workers are well-aware of the roles and jobs they have to perform. In other words, they are well-versed with their job description, whose aim is to build a specific set of rules applicable to the organisation they are working for. This is to ensure that the employees follow the guidelines and function smoothly for the progress of the organisation and the focus here is mostly on the authority and power of the leaders (Grey, 2008). It is also important to have a clear understanding of the organisational culture to ensure that the efficiency of the organisational processes is maximised.

Symbolic interpretive organisational theory

The modernist organisational theory takes into consideration the data that can be perceived by the five senses only. However, the symbolic interpretive organisational theory takes into account the other experiences that are beyond the reach of the five senses, such as intuition and emotions (Hendry, 2013). The data or findings that are obtained with the help of this perspective cannot be duplicated by others and this is one of the reasons as to why this theory is disregarded by most modernists. The level of commitment that the researchers have to exhibit is noteworthy, and it has to be done to corroborate the findings and explanations by the other scholars. The focus in the case of symbolic interpretive organisational theory is on the meaning and understanding, and care must be taken to prevent the generalisation of the results beyond the situation or context in which they were deduced (Martin, 1990). Organisations that conform to this theory believe that a clear understanding of the organisational culture, along with the interpretation of the cultural meaning of the different behaviours, verbal and non-verbal communication, and symbols would enable the workers to understand themselves in a better manner.

The symbolic interpretive perspective aims to define reality in terms of what is being experienced, through the use of emotions or feelings with respect to the incidents that have happened. Ample knowledge regarding this matter assists organisations to be more effectively involved in the management of diverse cultures within an organisation. The theory states that the structure of organisations has a direct contribution to work that is meaningful to them, through the reconstruction of the structure by observing and participating in the process (Oswick, Fleming, and Hanlon, 2011). It deals with the reason behind why work is done in certain specific ways and identifies the routine of work that is established using knowledge as well as human interaction in order to achieve the organisational goals (Oswick, Fleming, and Hanlon, 2011).

Organisations are seen as communities from this particular perspective. There is little regard for obtaining hard evidence through experimentation or testing, and this is where it is different from that of a modernist organisation. There is a certain degree of flexibility and the organisations are usually good at handling unstable external situations. This is yet another difference it has from that of a modernist organisation, which on the other hand, fares agreeably in a stable environment but becomes less productive or unresponsive in an unstable one, as there is little or no flexibility involved (McAuley, Duberley and Johnson, 2007). The member characteristics are part of certain integral objects, whose significance is a result of a process that is socially constructed. These affect the behaviours of both the individual members of the group as well as that of the organisation as a whole. The characteristics of the individual members could be reflected by the way the group functions, since the organisation has the tendency to absorb the qualities and traits of those involved. When the cultural backgrounds of the members are diverse, the benefits are magnified, especially in case of work that demands symbolic behaviour (Mazur, 2010).

Post-modern organisational theory

The post-modern organisational theory is different from that of the modernist and symbolic interpretive theory, since there is a certain unwillingness when it comes to finding the truth or making a permanent commitment that is either ontological or epistemological in its form. There is a diversion since there is no inclination for adopting a scientific approach or a description that can be interpreted symbolically (Boisot and McKelvey, 2010). There is definite philosophy that the post-modernists adhere to, and this is mostly due to the belief that choosing a definite philosophy would mean that a form of knowledge is being privileged over the other, which is essentially a violation of post-modern ethics (Argandoña, 2008). The modernist theorists had been successful in invoking a manner of scepticism that had supported the claims for knowledge, while the post-modernists had criticised the assumptions that had been so far unchallenged in the modernist approach. They had also rejected the attributes of certainty and objectivity when it came to both rationality and knowledge.

Post-modernism, like organisational symbolism, has a relation with the other studies of organisational culture, such as psychoanalysis, linguistics, anthropology, history and literary criticism. There is evidence to corroborate the fact that researchers who are apparently interested in cultural studies have very little in common, and therefore, studies related to organisational culture can be said to be part of a discursive formation (Clarke, 2005). History suggests that the two most influential scholars on post-modernist theories were Foucault and White. The emphasis of post-modernism has shifted from archival research to the customs and conventions of writing as far as the credibility of the historian is concerned (Shafritz, Ott and Jang, 2015). However, the belief remains, that organisations work to reinforce their power with knowledge in every step of the way. There is no clearly defined relationship between the different concepts as they are dynamic in nature, therefore no clearly verifiable definition can be made available. The theories had been developed by critically analysing the different assumptions that had been suggested by the other major theories, which were postulated in an attempt to establish the inclusiveness of human existence. The post-modernists believe that history does not “repeat itself” through rationalisation or social progress (Lock, 2003).

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A comparison between the three

The structure of an organisational is by nature a social and physical one, and it can be used to contrast and compare the three organisational theories to get an idea of the extent to which the theories compete with or complement each other. Social structure can be defined as the level of interaction and communication among the individuals in each department of an organisation, while the physical structure is the geographical layout of the organisation. Mark Webber had developed the concept of the social structure and it has been attributed as being a systematic study for the development of the division of labour, corporate rules and systems and the hierarchy of control or authority (Nonaka, et al., 2014). The modernists believe that the organisational structure differs from flat to tall, where the labour divisions are vastly different. The presumption is that the correlation between performance and human behaviour is quite strong in case of the social structure and the emphasis is on the rules to ensure that the work done is completed in an efficient manner. On the contrary, the symbolic interpretivists believe that humans are capable of creating things and contributing to work that is meaningful to them through the reconstruction of the organisational structure by observing and participating accordingly (Nonaka, et al., 2014). The post-modernists, however, do not believe in the concept of a concrete organisational structure, since they do not feel that there are any boundaries or limitations involved.


The fact that organisations exist in numerous forms and through different perspectives is a well-established one. The concepts and theories that are used also differ when the various factors of organisational structure and culture are explored. Modernism focuses more on labour of management, while the symbolic interpretivists emphasise more on the importance of rational thinking and emotions. The post-modernists are those who do not believe in the existence of a social or physical structure of the organisations. The accuracy to which the three perspectives can be defined is not definite, since the interpretation could change with time along with the organisational culture and structure.

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