organizations that serve multiple interests
For many of us, it’s that time of year – updating syllabi in preparation for fall semester. Often, this involves deciding whether to add or replace readings. This semester, I am reconsidering readings for an undergrad course on workplace management and its effect on workers and society. Like Indiana Jones, I’ve been on a decades-long hunt for what I consider my Holy Grail: finding counter-examples of how to organize in ways that serve multiple interests – not just management/owners and not just workers at the expense of customers, clients, or larger society.
Contemporary organizational sociologists excel at identifying problems, such as inequality, and the unintended consequences of organizing practices for workers, such as discrimination and instability. Mainstream bschool researchers study organizing practices that benefit management/owners but usually ignore the impact on workers and other parties. Neither group of researchers is particularly focused on helping students and readers to imagine other possibilities and the challenges these organizations encounter; thus, we may inadvertently reinforce the status quo by limiting exploration of the organizing “toolkit” to conventional practices and outputs.
Lately, I’ve turned to the media to locate examples of possible alternative ways of organizing, both conventional and unconventional. In a previous post, I described game developer Valve’s preference for teams over hierarchy. When teaching about organizations that function as sweatshops, I pair that reading with a NYT article on Alta Gracia, which pays a living wage and hires unionized labor. This week’s New Yorker offers an article that might spark a great class discussion. Comparing the operations of the Cheesecake Factory restaurant chain and efforts to standardize care on hospital units to improve patient outcomes and decrease waste, Atul Gawande explores a topic I’ve posed as an exam question – to what extent can a complex output like medical care be routinized and standardized?
In a few weeks, from beneath a silver cowboy hat, I should be continuing my search for the Holy Grail of organizing in a Nevada desert. But in the meantime, please put your suggestions for articles/links of interest in the comments!