HOW ORGANIZATIONS WORK
‘Short Case Study’ Assignment
Detailed Instructions and Suggestions
I am offering this memo to elaborate on my expectations for the brief writing exercise you have coming up on your own (or someone else’s) experiences interacting with an organization. The requirements for this assignment, more or less exactly as stated in the syllabus, are as follows:
- Write a paper/memo on an organization with which you interact, applying ideas you have learned in class to a real-world example. Choose an organization with which you have frequent interaction—as a customer, an employee, a leader, a congregant, etc.—and write a memo (about 1500 words, i.e., about five pages, double-spaced) in the form of a brief to potential new organizational members, deploying concepts learned in class, and documenting/analyzing what they need to know about how the organization works. We will discuss your memos in class in the week or two after they are due.
Here are some further instructions and ideas.
- I wanted you to present these in class the week of April 25. That would mean trying to get them done by April 24 at midnight. I am open to pushing the deadline back to April 27 and presenting them in class on April 28 and May 2. I have set up an Assignment on Canvas for submissions with April 24 as the tentative (but changeable) deadline for submission.
- You can expect to present your thoughts for 5-10 minutes in class, no longer. This is not meant to be a high-pressure activity, just a way of fairly informally applying concepts from the course to real-world experiences.
- I suggested you write as a member of the organization, or as someone served by the organization. Alternatively, you can informally interview (chat with) one or two or three (probably not more, unless you run a kind of informal mini focus group) members of an organization to get their take on it. At a very general level, you would be asking them, Would I want to work here, and why? Would I want to go to this school, or take this program, and why? What is one getting themselves into if they join ROTC, or the Indian Students Association, or the RU Rock Climbing Club, or Rutgers Hillel, or St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox church? [and so on]. You are trying to get (or simulate) a sense of how the organization operates and its consequences for the participant’s (customer’s, employee’s) experience.
- So far the exercise could be just impressionistic. But you ought to try to offer analytical insights into the matter. Specifically, try to describe what goes on in the organization in light of themes we have discussed this semester. What do I have in mind here? Think about answers to some (not all!) of the following questions:
- What are the organization’s (the school’s, the company’s, the church’s, the club’s) “standard operating procedures” (with respect to what they produce, how they handle customers, how they engage with students, etc.)? Do they, or how do they, treat everyone the same? If you are being served by this organization, do you feel the policies used to deal with you were fair? If not, what would be more fair?
- How do they decide who is a member, and how (and how strongly) are members distinguished from outsiders?
- How are organization members (or customers or patients, etc.) socialized into their roles in the organization? Do members identify discrepancies between how they are trained and their experiences on the job? [I.e., does the training properly prepare them for work ‘in the field?’] Is the training received purely technical, or are participants also educated about the context (e.g., the status dynamics) of the places where they will work?
- Do we observe some (or any) of Weber’s classic ideas about bureaucracy—in terms of its impartiality, its use of expertise practiced within specific jurisdictions, the maintenance of written files, the separation of office from personality as the basis of authority, etc.? Are reports properly filed, or is the task of writing them just ignored?
- Do we observe systems of surveillance or control over members of the organization? How does that take place? Via direct monitoring by management (as in Taylor)? Through ‘indoctrination’ in a workplace culture? Through incentive schemes of some sort (perhaps a bit like with respect to principal-agent problems)?
- Do you or your informants detect different constituencies within the organization with conflicting goals, to the point perhaps of disrupting ordinary operations (James March)? Or can one observe that the goals and direction of the organization are tightly controlled by a minority (Michels)?
- Does it seem like the organization is making rational, coherent, sensible decisions, or is it more like a garbage can, in which available solutions are thrown at problems randomly by a changing cast of decision-makers?
- Can you provide evidence (anecdotal is okay) that the organization is biased in certain ways—for example, that it sorts employees/students into jobs or situations or opportunities in unequal ways (the way the Kantor, Williams, and Ray readings talked about)?
- How good is communication within the organization? What technologies are used for communication, and are they alienating or empowering?
- What are some of the ways the organization brands itself? What norms are followed and/or what symbols are propagated in an effort to define the organization’s identity/culture (Kunda, Turco)?
The point is not to be exhaustive, but to use some of these question prompts to talk about some of the most important elements of the organization and how one experiences it. Let me know if you have any questions!