Friday, April 16, 2010
I have now finished “A very short, reasonably interesting and fairly cheap book about studying organisations” by Chris Grey and, frankly, am disappointed. It promised much at the start – with iconoclastic attacks on the types of writing about organisations - but left me, at the end, only with the impression sociologists generally do and which indeed the author anticipates half way through in a paragraph entitled - Why are you always carping? “You may well be thinking, he says, something along the lines – will nothing ever satisfy you? Older approaches to organisations have been condemned as dehumanising and degrading. Human-relations-type approaches are manipulative. Culture management is brainwashing. Now we have non-hierarchical, personally-focused and trust-based organisations (he attacks Richard Semmler’s writing about Semco) and you are still whinging”. Quite!
I know you can’t say a great deal about the study of organisations in 180 pages – but the book's de-constructivism is a bit repetitive.
And I was shocked to see no references to those whose study of organisations were practically grounded and focussed – eg those associated with the Tavistock Institute such as Emery and Trist; or Revans (action-learning). No mention of Eliott Jacques who was associated with Glacier Metal. Nor of the OD consultant, Roger Harrison, who worked with Charles Handy (also not mentioned) on the idea of organisational cultures (The Gods of Management). Ronnie Lessem was also a fascinating writer. One of Grey’s central questions is why writing in this field is so boring – but he has missed so many individuals whose writing IS interesting. Perhaps because the focus of his book is on the study of organisations in business schools (about which he has a separate chapter). And he does make the point that American writers are considered there the guru figures. Most of the people I have mentioned are British! The title therefore is misleading – he should have added that qualification.
And a lot of money and energy is spent on the study of organisations in the public sector – which hardly figures in his book. Granted the models people use for this work draws on the fashions of the private sector - and perhaps it deserves a separate book. But some references would still be appropriate.