Saturday, 7 February 2009

Understanding organization – Essay by Bogdan Craciun


About Bogdan Craciun

Diagnosis and recommendations to the State Mining Co

“The design of organization has been singled out as a significant factor in achieving good performance by senior managers and experienced consultants.” (Child, 1986, p.211)


In my opinion the main problem – delays provoked by equipment failure at the coalface – has two core causes: the first one is the intra and inter-departments miscommunication, and the second one is the lack of coordination within the current formal and informal organizational structure.

Our organization is constructed by the “machine metaphor” (Morgan, 1997). This type of structure is more suitable to stable environments (Burns and Stalker), less suitable for a coalmine, where the unpredictable could happen in any second.

I consider that the hierarchical structure is the reason for lack of communication.

From the organizational scheme results that the mechanical and electrical chief engineers are subordinated to General Manager – no one else than the Chief Mining engineer. This hierarchy perpetuates the old, traditional structure, when only Mining engineers existed, while the subordination feeds the superiority feelings of mining department personnel when dealing with mechanical and electrical department staff.

This is the first fracture in communication.

The second communication fracture happens between assistant engineers and their deputies.

The report reveals that the assistant engineers do not like to cooperate with their deputies. They collaborate only with their professionals with whom they develop a “union” solidarity.

In the same time the assistant engineers are treated with superiority by the undermen and overmen from Mining Department, even if they are hierarchically equal.

The third communication fracture is between Deputy Managers and Chief Engineers and this is caused by different tasks that each engages: practical issues, the first one and strategic, the last one. As the pressure of the crises and machine repairs, tasks performed by Deputy Managers is immense. It is perceived as pointless every strategic attempt of management from the Chief engineer. Here I identify a difficulty of balancing the short-term (daily) tasks with the long-term, strategic perspective. The deputies might consider that the long-term strategy is useless as long as they permanently confront with crises, while the chief engineers might consider their efforts useless as long as they cannot prevent and predict in any way the crisis.

Another problem is the lack of unity regarding the way information is processed and transferred intra and inter-departments.

Inside departments there are diverse communication styles that generate misunderstandings when information is carried between departments. When the “almighty” deputy manager, with a direct and sharp style meets the other deputies, more diplomatic in discourse, it is obviously that a conflict is wakened. The Deputy Manager could be annoyed by other’s deputies’ mildness, the Mechanical and Electrical Deputies might consider Manager Deputy’s approach as authoritarian and maybe personal offending. When the feelings of people involved in a task are so much incited, there’s no doubt that no further collaboration for a common goal is possible.

When a crisis happens, all departments try to pin the blame on someone else. This is a sign of the powerful rivalry and of the low sense of having a common aim regarding the output as quantity and quality.

The report points out a phenomenon normal for large organization, especially if they are divided: the quality of information and their routes to superior levels of hierarchy. It is obvious there are no real data for top management to analyze and to understand the causes of the crisis that produce delays in production. The total unpredictability of the events puts the organization in the situation of not being able to get all the advantages brought by the new technology.


The above problems I suggest could be solved redesigning the structure of the company using a “natural systems” approach. Clarke and Clegg indicate the results of such an attempt: cross-functional teams, processes integrated across organizational boundaries, delegation of authority to lower levels and reducing of the management layers numbers. (Clarke and Clegg, 1998 cited in Handout p. 24)

The reconstruction of the formal organization implies redesigning the hierarchical levels, the tasks responsibilities and increase of accountability.

In this process it is very important the attitude of the management towards change, the way it is influenced by people and their perception about change.

Restructuring of the organization, according to Bullock and Batten (1985) - cited in Cameron, Green (2004) - would follow four steps: exploration, planning, action and integration. This method treats the problem (in our case) to improve communication channels – as technically soluble. One of the redesigning results is the collection and transmission of the information from the work place to next levels, without any interpretation, just facts (certain parameters, relevant for each department, could be collected at regular time intervals, from certain work places points). The distortion of data is avoided. Each department will organize these data, and using a tolerance chart, they could identify in real time any event that could trigger a crisis.

This new line of reporting the data could constitute the first step for identifying real causes of delays. The top management will be able to identify if there’s a technology problem, a geological one or a personnel one. It is very possible to have a wrong match between machines used and the geological characteristics of the coal, or a lack of professional skills of workers.

In time the top management could decide if they need better geological forecasts and to invest in such equipments, or if they need other types of machines, or if they need to talk to the machine producers to customize them for the geological characteristics of the mine, or if they need to invest in people’s professional training.

These managerial actions feed-back the real causes, and try to modify and improve the inputs taking into consideration the outputs.

The final result could be the reducing of the unpredictability: the geologist, with more accurate information regarding the coal state, will pass the information to mechanical engineer who could chose better the type of machines to operate, and these information go to electrical engineers that assure that the system gets the power it needs.

The new data collecting and reporting network should be impersonal and facts oriented. This approach might make information flow, in a company where the history shows that personal feelings and conflicts leave a dramatic mark on effectiveness of communication.

It is obvious that there is dysfunctional peer-to-peer communication both on vertical (hierarchy inside the same department) and on horizontal (collaboration spread between departments inside the same hierarchical level).

For improving the vertical collaboration I suggest the following amending of the organizational scheme: all the Chief engineers should have the same hierarchical level, belonging to what I would call “The Planning and Production Department” – in fact a “change team” that, according to Glaser and Glaser (1992) – cited in Cameron, Green (2004, p. 65) – could implement and monitorize change. This is the case especially in our organization, with a strong autocratic management tradition.

“Because of the tradition of autocratic leadership, neither participation nor collaboration is natural or automatic processes. Both require learning and practice” (Glaser and Glaser (1992) – cited in Cameron, Green (2004, p.65)

The role of the “change team” would be the realization of congruence, according to the Nadler and Tushman (1997) congruence model – cited in Cameron, Green (2004, p. 105). The components of the organization – work, people, formal organization and informal organization are dependent on each other. A change in one of the components should be followed by modifications in the other components. Nadler and Tushman consider that “effective management of change means attending to all four components”, “as organization easily revert to the original mode of operation unless attended all four components” – cited in Cameron, Green (2004, p. 106).

And this seems to be the biggest future risk for organization: the return to old state.

As main modification of the organizational structure, I recommend to be introduced another hierarchical level, on top of chief engineers (annex 1), called General Manager. The General Manager will have as main responsibility the production. In the same time he should bring the chief engineers together, should create a common vision, common goal of their activities and should coordinate efforts and collaboration. The first step would be the setting of common goal agenda, goals designed in a SMART manner. I consider that the three chief engineers should be engaged into a team-building activity, so that each other to understand that the other one is as well a valuable professionals.

Here I find to be the most challenging part of change process. This company has both characteristics of a machine type and a political system type. The latter is obvious by the strong polarization of decisional power and status for the staff from Mining Department. A crisis in this company creates winners and losers. The change would require a powerful support – maybe from stakeholders – otherwise the present influential managers could prevent changing from happening. But powerful support is not enough. As according to Senge (1999) – cited in Cameron, Green (2004, p. 135) – “little significant change can occur if is driven from the top; CEO programs rolled out from the top are a great way to foster cynicism and distract everyone from real efforts to change”. Senge’s model for change advise to “start small” and to “grow steadily” as important stages for change implementation.

For improving the collaboration between departments I propose to follow Childs (1984, p. 107) idea of creating clusters of activities. Considering the work in mine and the risks involved, there are equal interests for fitters, electricians and mineworkers for working well together and for collaboration. But these equal and common interests should be reminded. It is not difficult to make the miners see that they need the help of fitters and electricians in order to do their jobs and get the results they are expected.

The change would follow the 4 steps linear model of team development as described by Tuckman (1965) – cited in Cameron, Green (2004, p. 67) – that consists of forming, storming, norming and performing.

I believe that the simultaneous intervention at a top management and teams’ level would bring real change and durable improvement.

Interpretation of coalmine’s problems, using the concepts of organization theory

“If you keep doing what you’re doing you’ll keep getting what you get”  - Anonymous

The work in coalmine is one of the traditional activities of the modern human life, with great risks and great economic rewards.

The formal structure of the company shows a mechanistic model, with separate functional departments. It is organized on Fayol’s management structure, who advocates the line and staff principle (the line being in charge with attaining organizational objectives, while the staff departments provide support to their managers). The weakness of this structure, pointed out by Fayol himself, is the “lack of communication across departmental boundaries”. This weakness is shown in the organization from the case study through the information asymmetry, a Principal-Agent problem.

The study case marks out that a managerial decision demands information in a certain amount and of a certain quality. Herbert Simon considers that too much information is more damaging than too little. In the study case the problem is not necessarily about quantity, but about the accuracy of the information, about the relation between the real data and what information receives the decision maker.

Another symptom is lack of integration that is translated into competing professional departments.

At the present the most powerful position in organization is hold by the Mining Department. The report shows a pronounced division among departments, with little communication and a huge rivalry. The managers encourage the policy of covering the backs instead of giving a higher vision and purpose. The company is the field of an open “political” conflict.

When we change the organizational scheme a special attention should be offered to the issues of power and status.

Analyzing the information from our report, I find that the greatest risk for the organization’s future is the resistance to change from personnel side.

Beckhard and Harris’ “change formula” (1987) - cited in Cameron, Green (2004, p. 102), identifies the factors strongly needed for change to happen:

C = A x B x D > X

C – change

A – level of dissatisfaction with the status quo

B – desirability of the proposed change or end state

D – practicality of the change (minimal risk and disruption)

X – “cost” of changing

Factors A, B, D must outweigh the perceived cost X for the change to occur. “The factors do not compensate for each other if one is low. All factors need to have weight.” Cameron, Green (2004, p. 103)

Analyzing the problems at the coalmine from this formula’s point of view I understand that the level of dissatisfaction with status quo differs as we have in fact two rival parts. On one side there are the Mining Department personnel, with higher status and on the other side, the mechanical and electrical department personnel, with lower status. This means that there will be resistance to change from the first group and willingness to amend situation, from the second group. This means conflict.

According to Burrell and Morgan (1979) – cited in Morgan (1996, p. 203), the way conflict is handled in an organization varies much with the view the manager has.

If the manager in charge with the change has a unitary view, he can attribute this conflict to troublemakers. Maybe he will operate dismissals of those perceived as such.

If the manager in charge with change has a radical view, he can consider that conflict is inevitable, and if is suppressed, the conflict will exist latent. In a pluralist managerial view, the conflict has potentially positive aspects. The pluralist manager “accepts the inevitability of organizational politics” and is “focused on balancing and coordinating the interests of organizational members so that they can work together within the constraints set by organization’s formal goals, which really reflect the interests of shareholders and others with ultimate control over the fate of the organization”. (Morgan, 1996, p. 204)

The evaluation of the “change formula” at the beginning of diagnose, will help understand if in future the change will be really possible. Without people’s involvement and commitment, the organization could just revert to the initial state and the experiment would fail.

It is well known that for the externally imposed changes the process is never successful. That is why the redesigning of the organizational structure, besides the formal part, must show great concern for the people’s motivation and commitment to change.

The coalmine structure shows that the new technology is implemented in production but not integrated at the managerial vision level. Change of technology requires change of the job arrangements. Otherwise, as Child (1986) notes, technology could be used as scapegoat and all the responsibilities for output transferred on it, as is happening with the mechanical and electrical department in the study case. Maybe on paper the new technology seems the best from the perspective of engineers. But machines cannot do more than they were designed to be: cannot consolidate a coal wall if is on the brink of falling, cannot stop themselves before digging in a place where a flood will follow shortly. These are information handled by humans, by professionals. Professionals decide when is the time for a machine to work, where to dig, under what technical characteristics. They know and have the responsibility of stopping the machines and do what is need when they can prevent a major crisis.

As the operative work of miners is reduced should be increased the monitoring roles of the jobs. Increasing of responsibility and decision-making at workers level could help save precious time: if the worker is provided with some tolerance criteria plus the expertise of the professionals from his cluster group, he could be granted a level of decision where to stop the work and send the report to superior for deeper analyze. In this way, reacting to the data received, the worker might prevent a wall falling or flooding. With an increased level of responsibility – by actively monitoring and reporting – the worker becomes proactive. It is what I call a “just in time” feed-back.

All these things are going to be achieved by integrating new job description with professional training. This will enable workers to incorporate new skills and responsibilities.

By simply involving workers more will be less crisis and higher productivity.

The problem from the presented case study was a general issue in the coal industry of the last century.

Using as starting point the open system theory of Bertalanffy (1950), the researchers from Tavistock Institute elaborated the sociotechnical theory. This theory emphasizes the interdependence between technology and work organization. As Child (1986, P. 34) notes, “the earlier sociotechnical systems research examined and experimented with possibilities of creating a social organization of work, based on cohesive and self-regulating groups of employees, within production systems which retained an unchanged technology of plant and equipment”. The theory speaks about “job enrichment”. From my point of view the essential gain from this theory’s approach is the fact that the organization could benefit not only from the workers “muscles power”, but, more important, could benefit by activating their “Grey substance muscles”, satisfying workers’ natural need for personal growth, (Hackman and Oldham, 1980 – cited in Child, 1986 p.36)

By using the sociotechnical theory at the managerial level, by integrating managers with different specializations in the same hierarchical level group, is encouraged common action for solving the group tasks.



Cameron, Esther, Green, MikeMaking sense of Change Management. A complete guide to the Models, Tools and Techniques of Organizational Change, 2004, Kogan Page, London

Child, JohnOrganization: A guide to problems and practice, 2nd ed, 1986, Harper and Row Publishers, London

Morgan, GarethImages of Organizations, 1997, Sage Publications, London

Annex 1

Restructured Formal Structure


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Understanding organization de Bogdan Craciun este licenţiat printr-o Licenţă Creative Commons Atribuire-Necomercial-Fără Opere Derivate 3.0 România.

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