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  • Writer's pictureMatt Garris

Changes of Organizations

The following post is adapted from my personal academic coursework.


Changes of Organizations

One of humanity’s earliest attempts at organization did not end well. Genesis 11:3-4 tells of the organization building the tower of Babel: “Then they said to one another, ‘Come let us make bricks and bake them thoroughly.’ They had brick for stone, and they had asphalt for mortar. And they said, ‘Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower whose top is in the heavens; let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth.’ These people were purposeful, conscious, and deliberate in pursuit of their specific goals; they were an organization. Ultimately, their organization was also one of the earliest to fail. Genesis 11:8 explains that “the Lord scattered them abroad… …and they ceased building the city.”

Since that time, organizations have gradually become more successful. Politically, there have been cities, kingdoms, and empires, many of which remain today. Economies and religions have also become more successful. These institutions ebb and flow over time, but technology has led to a sharp increase in globalization over the past couple of centuries. Skousen observed that “in the past 200 years, the human race had made a 5,000 year leap.” The pace of technological innovation has rapidly accelerated in the four decades since Skousen’s observation and the world is more interconnected now than at any point since Genesis 11:8. This phenomenon has impacted organizations and those who study them in a variety of ways. Organizational theory is evolving in response to increased global interconnectivity through changes in the way it works with the dimensions of size, culture, and time.

Size

Scott and Davis described the gradual transition away from local organizations: “From an earlier, simpler time when all organizations (like politics) were local, situated in specific geographically delimited contexts, we now find ourselves in a world in which the reach of many organizations is worldwide. While there are still many – probably most – organizations that operate in a single, restricted locale, they now share space with different types operating in wider arenas…, [and] …are connected… …to larger corporate systems.”

Scott and Davis also noted a shift in organizational structures from patterns of horizontal relationships within the community, such as the Chamber of Commerce, to patterns of vertical relationships, such as those within a corporate hierarchy. This is visible in cities and towns across the world. Forty years ago, each locale had its own restaurants, retailers, and culture. However, a drive across the country reveals the same restaurants – Applebee’s, Burger King, Chili’s, Domino’s, McDonald’s, Taco Bell, and Wendy’s – and stores – Dollar Tree, Target, and Wal-Mart – in many communities. Even many hometown churches have grown to include multiple campuses, cultures, and languages. Each of these organizations is more connected to its vertical hierarchy than to other organizations in the local market. It seems the trend toward organizational growth and vertical structure is present in almost every aspect of life.

However, Immordino et al. noted a different approach in criminal organizations: “Mafias with a vertical internal structure… …traditionally feature higher levels of coordination, centralized power and decision making. By contrast, mafias with a horizontal structure… [have] …a more equal distribution of power and authority. …Vertical organizations are (on average) more resilient to State repression, although they are more visible and therefore their members can be targeted more easily by law enforcers. Similarly, in Latin America… …there is large evidence of cartels switching from a vertical to a horizontal structure after the war on drugs in Mexico. Moreover, international terrorist organizations have been shown to adapt their organizational structure to law enforcement policies.” Their research suggests that organizations ultimately utilize structures that best advance their goals, regardless of their size or global presence. In other words, one size does not fit all.

Culture

Scott and Davis noted that the field of organizational studies “is culturally circumscribed, largely resulting from the work of American scholars with input from Canadian and English colleagues.” This is not necessarily reflective of any systemic bias, but rather corresponded with the lesser degree of organizational centrality that was common in the past. However, as the world becomes more connected, the number of multicultural organizations continues to grow.

Studying Multicultural Organizations

Scott and Davis discussed the need for research to expand beyond Western organizations, questioning whether “a well-grounded field of organizational studies can be based on such a biased sample of the world’s scholars and organizational forms.” They cited several positive developments toward this end. Hickson expressed his excitement at “the appearance of genuinely multicultural studies in the early 1980s. Scott and Davis further explained their encouragement that “organizational scholars are moving in the direction of ‘a more contextualized approach to the study of organizations and management.’”

Conceptualizing Multicultural Organizations

Fitzsimmons et al. discussed the benefit of “international organizations, ranging from large multinational corporations to small ‘born global’ firms” being able to “operate across countries and across cultures.” They differentiated between types of multiculturalism and found that multiculturalism varies significantly between individuals. They explained their conceptualization of multiculturalism as being based on two related continua – identity plurality and identity integration.

Fitzsimmons et al.’s research, while focused on individuals, seems quite applicable to organizations. The first dimension of multiculturalism – identity plurality – refers to how many cultures with which an individual or organization may identify. For instance, if a British software producer has a technical support call center in Pakistan, the producer has one cultural identity – British – while the call center has two – British and Pakistani.

However, Fitzsimmons et al.’s second dimension of multiculturalism – identity integration – is the one that holds the greatest benefit for organizations. This dimension addresses how integrated an individual or organization’s cultural identities are with one another. Thinking again of the call center, does it embody a dominant British culture in which its Pakistani employees essentially check their local culture at the door? Or does it embody a dominant Pakistani culture in which a group of Pakistani coworkers just happen to have the same British employer? Perhaps both cultures are co-dominant and while the service they provide is culturally British, the working environment is culturally Pakistani. A fourth option would be full integration in which the call center actively exemplified aspects of both British and Pakistani cultures in most of their work interactions and had a uniquely “Britkistani” culture.

Implications for Practice

In this rapidly globalizing world, it is tempting to completely abandon one’s boundaries and be as much of a “melting pot” as possible. As the world’s foremost multicultural society, the United States has grappled with its identity as a “melting pot” or “salad bowl” for some time. This is essentially a question of how multicultural an organization becomes before it develops its own unique culture. This phenomenon is neither inherently good nor bad, depends upon the organization and its goals. Genesis 2:24 describes this process in marriage, and how a marriage is no longer just a man or just a woman, but “they shall become one flesh.”

While interconnectivity holds benefits for organizations, boundaries are also important.

Merida touched on the importance of boundaries when dealing with multiculturalism: “The Bible supports the marriage between couples of different races but not of different faiths. God explicitly forbade the marrying of a foreigner… …because of the danger of apostasy.” Boundaries are the mechanisms by which organizations maintain their unique character and multicultural organizations are those in which the members interact across boundaries based on their shared commonalities.

Jang explored the relationships between multiple cultures within an organization and specifically examined cultural brokerage and cultural overlap. Jang defined cultural brokerage as “facilitating interactions… …across cultural boundaries” and cultural overlap as “the extent to which an individual shares cultural membership with others in the team.” These constructs lend a sense of formality to Baker’s definition of a network organization as “a social network that is integrated across formal boundaries.”

Time

Organizational theorists must also address the dimension of time to better understand the nature and function of the organizations they study. Pierson explained that, despite knowing that organizations are dynamic collectivities, analysts tend to view them as temporally static and consequently “miss a lot… [of] …important things that [they] do not see at all,” and misunderstand much of what they do see.” In this world, time never stops, and analyzing any dynamic thing in an immediate setting without considering its temporal environment limits the effectiveness of the analysis.

Additionally, some effects become evident over time. Pierson noted that “many important causal processes exhibit a ‘long time horizon’ either in the time it takes for pressures for change to build up or in the time it takes for the effects to be observable.” In a very practical sense, placing a pot of water on the stove, turning on the burner, and observing that the water does not immediately boil may lead one to incorrectly conclude that the burner made no difference to the water. However, checking the same pot of water 15 minutes later may lead to a much different conclusion. Nearly everything, no matter how insignificant it seems, affects change if applied consistently over time.

Evaluating organizations over time also reveals patterns of history repeating itself. Consider King Solomon’s discussion of repetition over time from Ecclesiastes 1:4-11: “One generation passes away, and another generation comes; but the earth abides forever. The sun also rises, and the sun goes down, and hastens to the place where it arose. The wind goes toward the south, and turns around to the north; the wind whirls about continually, and comes again on its circuit. All the rivers run into the sea, yet the sea is not full; to the place from which the rivers come, there they return again. All things are full of labor; man cannot express it. The eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing. That which has been is what will be, that which is done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun. Is there anything of which it may be said, ‘See, this is new?’ It has already been in ancient times before us. There is no remembrance of former things, nor will there be any remembrance of things that are to come by those who will come after.” King Solomon’s mention of remembrance in verse 11 is of particular interest. He states that his contemporaries do not know about the experiences of their predecessors and that their successors will likewise forget their experiences. His remarks highlight why passing knowledge and experiences through generations is important for human development.

Scholars have much to say about time. Bansal et al. noted that “time, in its various dimensions and manifestations (speed, rhythm, sequence, horizon) is inherent to strategic management.” Mohammed discussed research on time: “Time has always been a pressing concern for management and organization studies. Many of these analyses of the various forms, functions and effects of organizational time are contextualized by the work of leading scholars… …who establish time as not only one of the most basic elements of human organization but [one] which is underpinned by particular images (‘linear’ time and ‘clock’ time), and divided by extensive debates (whether time is to be understood qualitatively or quantitatively).” The relationship between time and organizational research led Pierson to observe that “social life unfolds over time [and] real social processes have distinctly temporal dimensions.”

Conclusion

As the world has grown flatter and more interconnected, organizations have grown vertically to maintain their structures as their footprints have become global. In doing so, organizations have changed their size – moving from local to global contexts – and this change has also affected their structural and cultural compositions. As these real-world organizations change, those who study them also modify their perspectives. Scholars view changes in terms of the organization’s size, culture, and time. This perspective allows for an improved understanding of the organization, its context, the probable outcomes of these changes, and the realization of Solomon’s maxim that “there is nothing new under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 1:9).


References

Bansal, P., Reinecke, J., Suddaby, R., & Langley, A. (2019). Temporal work: The strategic organization of time. Strategic Organization, 17(1), 145-149. https://doi.org/10.1177/1476127018824166


Fitzsimmons, S. R., Liao, Y., & Thomas, D. C. (2017). From crossing cultures to straddling them: An empirical examination of outcomes for multicultural employees. Journal of International Business Studies, 48(1), 63-89. https://doi.org/10.1057/s41267-016-0053-9


Immordino, G., Piccolo, S., & Roberti, P. (2020). Optimal leniency and the organization design of group crime. Journal of Public Economics, 191. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jpubeco.2020.104262


Jang, S. (2017). Cultural brokerage and creative performance in multicultural teams. Organizational Science, 28(6), 993-1009. https://doi.org/10.1287/orsc.2017.1162


Merida, T. (2015). Christ-centered exposition commentary: Exalting Jesus in 1 & 2 Kings. B & H Publishing Group.


Mohammed, S. (2019). Unthinking images of time in organizations: ‘The shopping centre keeps time with a rubato waltz.’ Organization, 26(2), 199-216. https://doi.org/10.1177/1350508418808241


Scott, W. R. & Davis, G. F. (2016). Organizations and organizing: Rational, natural, and open system perspectives (6th ed.). Routledge.


Skousen, W. C. (1981). The 5000 year leap: A miracle that changed the world. National Center for Constitutional Studies.


The Holy Bible, New King James Version (1982). Thomas Nelson, Inc.

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