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Mintzberg - INTEGRATED THEORIES of School Organization

Mintzberg - INTEGRATED THEORIES of School Organization


In recent years a number of new 'organizational theories' have appeared on the scene. The following scientists, among others, have rendered significant contributions to the study of organizations: Henry Mintzberg from McGill University in Canada, Peter M. Senge from MIT's Sloan School of Management in the United States, and Peter Gomez from Hochschule St Gallen in Switzerland (cf Mintzberg 1991, Senge 1990, Gomez and Zimmermann 1992).

While Senge has come up with one specific systematic perspective of organizations and developed his theory of 'the learning organization', both Mintzberg and Gomez take a broader approach. The fact that I still choose to present Senge in this context (and not under the humanistic perspective) is because his thinking goes deeper and encompasses more than one specific perspective.


Mintzberg's point of departure is that all organizations are influenced by both internal and external forces, and that a balance between them is essential for achieving effectiveness in any given situation. There is no one way of achieving this effectiveness, but many.

But Mintzberg goes beyond the 'contingency theoreticians' (see above), who virtually claim that 'it all depends' on the situation in each case, without stating clearly what effect various remedies might have in given situations. Mintzberg attempts to clarify which strategies are best for developing an organization, what makes an organization outstanding when it counts, and what it takes to maintain and perpetuate an organization that is already functioning well.

In Mintzberg's first works, the concept of'configuration' played an important role. He sought to group organizations according to specific patterns, each 'form' being effective for its particular purpose. Later, however, he discovered that a number of very effective organizations did not fit into these patterns of his. Today he prefers working with concepts such as 'forces' and 'forms'.

He feels that most of what goes on in organizations can be understood as an interaction between seven different forces (see Figure 2.2).

Figure 2.2 Mintzberg: A system of forces in an organization

1. Leadership or direction: Gives us an indication of where an organization as a whole is headed. Without such a 'strategic vision', it is difficult to get every part of an organization to move in tandem.

2. Efficiency: Seeks to optimize the relationship between cost and results. All organizations, apart from the most shielded ones, have to be concerned about their productivity, which often leads to cutbacks.

3. Proficiency: Involves the performance of tasks with a high level of knowledge and skills. Without academic expertise, most organizations would not survive.

4. Concentration: Certain parts of an organization concentrate on serving specific markets. Without this kind of specialization it would be difficult to manage complex organizations.

5. Innovation: Makes it possible for an organization to discover and develop new methods, services and products for its customers and for itself.

6. Co-operation: Seeks to find and utilize a common ideology for the purpose of moving together. By Ideology', Mintzberg means more than an organization's culture in the traditional sense. His use of the term includes such concepts as norms, traditions, conviction and values. For Mintzberg, these factors are valuable energy, and serve as 'glue' in the organization.

7. Competition: As opposed to co-operation, organizations are also up against competition - or what Mintzberg calls 'polities': and 'each to his own' attitude, the fact that competing interests are vying for power, often by means of unacceptable or illegitimate attitudes and behaviour.

Mintzberg's theory states that all these seven forces are potentially active in every organization. If one of these forces is allowed to predominate, in time a unified form will take shape, which he describes as a configuration. If an organization develops in a lopsided fashion according to one particular pattern, this will have the effect of repressing other vital forces in that organization. The danger is lopsided dominance and what Mintzberg chooses to call contamination.

Where no single force predominates, organizations will function as a combination of forces that are in equilibrium. Such a pattern can easily lead to division. Both contamination and division call for management that can successfully cope with disparities. Then what Mintzberg calls 'the catalytic forces', co-operation and competition, play an important role. However, these are contrasting forces, and in an effective organization these must be in balance. Regardless of the form (or 'configuration'), the balancing offerees remains the basic issue.


By a given 'form', Mintzberg means an organization that is consistent and integrated. This is an organization in which everything 'fits together', as it were. There is no single form that is effective for every purpose in all organizations. There are a number of forms, each with their own special features:

1. The entrepreneurial form: Appears when 'management and direction' predominate in an organization, usually when a manager plays a decisive and dominant role. This often happens in the start-up phase, when a strong vision and a strong leader are often essential before an organization can really start moving.

2. The machine form: Appears when the demand for efficiency and productivity is important. This form is typical of large manufacturing or service companies, and for organizations with a strong need for control.

3. The professional form: Usually develops when proficiency and academic quality are the predominant forces - as, for example, in hospitals and high-tech companies. The tendency is to extend the existing base of knowledge and methods, instead of developing new ones. Established, high-skill procedures predominate and make it possible for individual professionals to enjoy a considerable measure of freedom with respect to their colleagues.

4. The 'Adhocracy': Created in response to the need for innovation. In this form, as well, we have a team of professionals, but because they are underpressure to constantly be creating something new, they usually work in teams on a cross-platform, interdisciplinary basis. Something new is always being created - either in-house or in close co-operation with customers.

5. The 'diversified' form: Present when the need for concentrating on specific products and services becomes so pressing that these must be developed and handled separately. Such organizations are characterized first by a significant degree of delegating, and second by 'divisionalism'. Each department is given a large measure of autonomy, governed by norms and guidelines laid down by a small, centralized staff.

Mintzberg also regards 'ideology' and 'polities' as forces which, in certain cases, can dominate an organizational form. In this connection he mentions the Israeli kibbutzes as an example of a type of form that is ideology-based.

None of these forms exist in a 'pure' state; there are, however, a number of examples of organizations that share features with a certain form. Mintzberg compares having a form with having a personality. Without a 'form', any organization will experience a crisis of identity. The fact that an organization has a certain form is effective as long as the situation is static; but as soon as dynamic changes begin to take place, an established form will inevitably become ineffective - it is just a question of time.

When a specific form predominates to the exclusion or detriment of other forces, or when an organization does not react adequately to external changes, the seeds of self-destruction are sown. A 'machine organization' might be unable to renew itself because innovative forces have been consistently quelled.

Professionals can wind up dominating things without taking sufficient account of the issue of productivity - and do so to such an extent that their organization ultimately strangles to death. An entrepreneur can wind up exploiting his own organization to go on an ego trip. A divisionalized organization in which common values play a minor role easily breaks apart. Likewise, an ad hoc organization that is incapable of exploiting the potential for innovation (before it develops something new) will not be able to survive.

An organization cannot, in other words, be effective in a 'pure' form unless it is kept in check by other forces in the organization (Mintzberg calls this 'containment').

In those cases where it is possible to have a 'pure' form, this is just fine; but most organizations, instead, have to cope with competing forces. Naturally, an orchestra requires a high professional standard for its players, but it also needs clear-cut, competent leadership. Just as a lopsidedly 'pure' form can easily destroy the equilibrium of an organization and eclipse all other forces, organizations that enjoy a combination of strong forces will often have to resist centrifugal forces that would break up the organization.

Mintzberg claims that most organizations go through several transformations during the course of their lifetime. He exemplifies this and points up the danger of splintering. To manage a divided organization, or one that works with deep and latent divisive tendencies, is a great (and highly relevant) management challenge. Mintzberg points out important aspects of the processes of change that must be taken into account if these periodic transformations are to succeed.

Traditionally, organizations have tried to tackle this challenge in one of two ways: by renewed co-operation or increased competition. In Mintzberg's mental image of an organization (see Figure 2.2), these two forces have been placed in the middle. They have a tendency, not to pull an organization toward some extreme form, but rather to put their stamp upon the organization as a whole. Mintzberg calls these the catalytic forces.

Co-operation is a crucial catalytic force that helps hold an organization together. Whether a co-operative atmosphere is created by a charismatic leader or is the fruit of common efforts, organizations with a highly co-operative culture are able to resolve the structual conflicts inherent in a lopsided form of organization. Mintzberg points out the limitations of co-operation. In the first place, it is difficult to develop a co-operative culture, let alone maintain it once it has been established. Karl Weick once said: 'A culture is not something an organization has; rather, an organization is a culture' (quoted from Kiechel 1984). This is why it is so hard to change organizations.

An ideology of co-operation risks becoming too inward-looking, morbidly preoccupied with itself, and might (directly or indirectly) reject internal criticism that seeks to take a critical look at the company culture. Even though a co-operative culture does make it possible to renew the organization within established norms, it nevertheless resists fundamental change.

Competition represents the force that encourages the individual to pursue his or her own interests (often at the expense of the common good). In other words, competition encourages an organization to move in many directions at once, which would ultimately lead to the death of the organization. However, if an overly assertive ideology has been obstructing fundamental criticism over a long period of time, increased competition can help bring about important and necessary changes in an organization.

Thus it is important that these two forces be kept in equilibrium: co-operation on the one hand, and competition on the other. Both forces are essential: co-operation helps secondary forces to keep a dominant force in check, whereas competition tends to promote confrontation. Mintzberg claims that it is only by striking a happy medium between these two forces that an organization can develop and survive in a dynamic world. Organizations need a sense of direction, true; but they also need a balance.

Mintzberg has tried to integrate several theories within the structural and the political perspectives. It is not clear to what extent the humanistic perspective plays a role in his analysis. The forces 'co-operation' and 'competition' point up the significance of different types of cultures and can thus be said to represent Mintzberg's version of the humanistic perspective. The symbolic perspective, not being explicitly represented, can almost be regarded as an extreme consequence of lopsidedly dominant forces (for example, 'loosely connected systems' can be said to be a version of Mintzberg's 'diversified form' - which can be a positive thing where the market calls for concentration, but which can easily lead to a break-up.) In addition, Mintzberg is very strong on contingency theory.

Another interesting feature of Mintzberg's theory is that it couples open system theory (organizations are completely independent of their market), with the need to understand those internal processes in organizations that are important for determining the type of configuration they have.

Mintzberg - INTEGRATED THEORIES of School Organization
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