Organisations involve people interacting in one way or another


Organisations involve people interacting in one way or another, always with a common goal to attain. These interactions just like any other result in conflicts once in a while. This paper helps managers identify effective ways of solving problems by integrating Morgan G's Metaphors.

The first part of the paper explains the problem I encountered as a manger and the steps taken to understand the problem. The second and broad part of the paper explains the three metaphors as explained by Morgan in his book, Images of the organisation. These metaphors are Culture, political systems and psychic prisons; they are broadly explained to provide basic understanding of how they will be used in problem solving and decision making.

The last part explains their use in solving the problem I had at my organisation. They are combined together in an attempt to maximise their benefits. Organisations need to form a corporate metaphor and use of clean language with which to identify itself with. For this to be effective, it's mandatory to create a personalised application for symbolic model which changes the symbolic perception of an organisation. Symbolic modelling consists of three main components: modelling, metaphors and clean language. In this paper, our focus is on the metaphor component of symbolic modelling. Individuals and groups need to recognise the unconscious metaphors, hidden within the organisation that shape their thinking, guide their decision making and narrow down their choices.

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BBM Corporation is a leading software company with 30% women employees and 5% inter racial employees. As a senior Human resource manager, I received a complaint from women and the minority employees of an alleged harassment and discrimination from senior male employees. Because of the sensitive nature of the case, I took time to analyse the case and understand it further to review its credibility.

As a feminist, I realise that my biases would cloud my decisions and decide to involve my senior boss in the analysis of this problem. The organization's codes of conduct and the ethical requirements of my profession put me in check to ensure that I remained objective through out the whole process, and that my final decision reflected the best possible alternative, free of biases.

The analysis involved a series of question asking in order to be able to come up with a strong case with feasible solutions. Some of the questions were personal, "like what are my biases in this situation that could cloud my judgement and prevent me from coming up with a lasting solution?" some question related to the organisation's culture in solving such problem, like "has this problem ever occurred before? And if so, how was it solved?" and the last set of question referred to the complainant and the alleged perpetrators. "Who is complaining, and about who?" what other explanations best describe this problem? What actions will be most suitable to take and who else needs to be involved in the decision making process? How will the new decisions be implemented?

These questions enabled me to come up with a proper frame work and standing point at which to view the problem. The best way to understand and solve this question is to incorporate the multi metaphor analysis in this situation. In order to understand how this helped, I need to provide a clear understanding of the three metaphors I used. The organisational metaphors as explained by Morgan G. (2006). Images of Organisation

Morgan provides a number of metaphors but our main focus is Culture metaphor, political system metaphor and Psychic prison metaphor.

A traditional understanding of the word "metaphor" is a special language or a figure of speech but contemporarily, in line with organizational operations, it is a way of thought / thinking. Therefore, it is basically a mental frame work that guides an individual or an organisation's operations. Metaphors can be conceptual, linguistic, structural or visual.

Linguistic represents the use of written and spoken words. Conceptual is a relationship between two concepts. Visual use images to convey a message and control one's mental process, as in the use of animated animals on Disney's products and toys.

Metaphors used like, "the man is a dog" over emphasize ones ability. This relates the person to the qualities of the dog ignoring his human side. It could mean the man is faithful, humble, e t c which may not be the case. The baseline of this argument is that all organisational theories are base don images that lead us to see or understand the organisation and its operation. These images are the metaphors Morgan explains in his book. When you refer to an organisation as a" machine", what image are you creating to those within and outside the organisation?

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Culture metaphor

Culture can be described as an abstract concept with qualifying elements like language, knowledge, beliefs, morals, attitudes, customs, tradition, laws, e t c an organisation's culture refers to the every day's operations that could easily be taken for granted. It is a routined way of behaviour that is not easy to notice. An organisation's tradition in handling situation, and basically, "way of doing things". Every one in the organisation has to learn and work with the existing culture. New members are introduced to the culture. Every organisation has a culture which explains the way things are done. The metaphors we use when talking about our organisations basically tell people about our organisation's attitude and beliefs, which build the culture. The metaphors act as emotional anchors, which are passed down to new employees.

Culture identifies the kind of people who are employed, and how the organisation is structured. It crates a sense of shared function and belongingness to those employees who have a structured way of thought.

The biggest advantage of culture metaphor is that it realise the importance of paying attention to the environment. The external aw well as the internal environment gives insight of the image of the organisation and is important to consider both views. The organisation must achieve congruence with the external environment in order to analyse its true image. This external environment is socially structured.

As the organisation develops, there could be a need to change its culture or expand it. To identify an organisation's culture, for the possibility of change, there are a number of processes to undertake.

It is important to uncover or realise the core values and beliefs that define the organisation. These values are deeply in the behaviours of the people in the organisation.

identify and discuss the core values of the organisation and separate them from the beliefs of subcultures within the organisation,

Establish new codes of behaviour and metaphor language that relate to the desired values

As new members join the organisation, they must be introduce to the culture and demonstrate a willingness to promote the organisational culture. It is possible to see that the relationship between the organisation's environment and its operations are socially constructed. Morgan says, "the belief and ideas that an organisation hold about who they are, what they are trying to do and what their environment is like have a much greater tendency to realise themselves than usually believed."

It is therefore important to use the right word when talking about our organisations. Positive encouraging and achieving words are best. These words have a psychological effect on us and the outside world. However, managers should take caution not to use the organisation's culture to manipulate employees. Overdependence of this metaphor can however make an organisation miss out on other alternatives for viewing and understanding situations.

Political system metaphor

Political system metaphor is greatly influenced by the sociological perspective of organisational politics. Max Weber's writings of bureaucracy and hierarchical structure of organisations are the main foundations of Morgan understanding of organisational politics.

Just like the government politics, all organisations have political systems that encompass authority, power, self interests, alliances, conflict management, censorship, leaders and rights. The political system metaphor of an organisation expresses the need for people in the organisation to fight for their rights and personal interest; we all have personal interests that motivate our actions. These interests vary and the difference of opinions between people can cause conflicts.

Conflicts in an organisation arise when there is a scramble for resources, competition to climb the hierarchical ladder, and career advancements. These conflicts, to certain level, are productive and are considered a normal part of existence however when they bring conflicts, then they need to be solved.

Another political system metaphor aspect of the organisation is power. Power is the ability to influence other people to do what you require them to do, with or without their wish. When there is a power conflict, the person with the most power usually wins.

There are certain sources of power as described by sociologists and explained by Morgan in his book, images of organisation. They include:

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Formal authority

Which he explains is bureaucratic, and can be charismatic, traditional and by rule of law. Charismatic authority comes from a person's charming ability, heroic acts, and outstanding character. They influence other people's mind by these qualities. Traditional power comes from the customary way of handling issues. I t is tied to past tradition, i.e., if it has always been a tradition that at a particular age, a person becomes a leader, he/she will be crowned with that title once they attain this. Power by rule of law depends on the set criteria for becoming a leader. These criteria are found in the organisation's constitution, and the individual is given a code of conduct to act upon.

Control of the scarce resources. An individual who is relied upon for the availability of the scarce resources like money definitely gains power from those who depend on the resources.

Rules and regulations. Rules are set to protect the interest of those in power and those who create them. Because of the hidden agendas in organisations, conflicts about rules commonly occur.

Control of decision process. Generally, decisions offer objectives in the organisation. Having a framework and knowledge of how to handle situations gives one powers over others.

Control of knowledge and information. Power is usually invested upon those who are able to control information circulation, monitor information use and control the utilisation the scarce resources. These resources should be maximised in order to realise company objectives and goals.

Boundary control. In relation to the hierarchical statue of organisation, there is a chain of command and flow of communication that is followed in all organisations. An individual who is capable of controlling boundaries therefore deciding who accesses the boss usually has powers over others.

Network and alliances. The ability for an individual to win people, create important alliances and pacify enemies makes one a suitable candidate for possession of powers.

Ability to cope with uncertainty. Most people panic and are unable to cope during difficult situations. An individual who is able to cope with uncertainty and provide guidelines on how to move forward is a likely powerful individual.

The power one already has. This is described under the belief that, power breeds power. Those in powerful positions use their power to acquire more power. Everything in the organisation becomes political at one point or the other. Rationality is political; democracy is political among others.


Another common aspect of political metaphor is Democracy called off. We all desire to operate in democratic institutions. With empowerment and increased knowledge of human rights, most organisations operate o democracy principles. However, a closer look at the organisations reveals that democracy does not really prevail. Management tend to be autocratic in their operations. This is because most power in invested in hands of few individuals or a single person, who make almost all the important decisions. Because of this, it's important to ask yourself if it is possible to run organisation in a democratic way.

The psychic prison metaphor.

Psychic prison deals with the cognitive states of the members of an organisation. The conscious versus the unconscious processes, repression, defence mechanisms, regression, ego, denial, projection, coping skills, pain and pleasure, and all the psychological processes of an individual.

Working with the unconscious. Psychologists explain that the human brain consists of the conscious, pre conscious and the unconscious mind. The unconscious mind contains repressed feeling or information that we do not want to recall. In order to solve an internal conflict between individuals/ within an individual, he/she must let go of the contents of the unconscious mind. This is normally a very heavy task, s most people can rarely face their fears.

Working with the unconscious of the organisation. Just like the human. Organisations too have unconscious knowledge. This self knowledge must be developed and understood, failure of which the organisation will be trapped in a psychic prison. We all have defence mechanisms, regression &repression. that prevent us from acting out our true feelings, hence repressing them inside. This is a harmful coping strategy as these feelings are not eliminated. They are repressed, only to be released later

In psychic prison, there is a metaphor referred to as exaggerated rationality. The normal level of rationality is always exaggerated in organisations, raising expectations which could lead to conflicts. This describes a basic form of being stuck in a psychic prison, as we rarely open our minds to see reality and accept the normal rational truth that things operate.

Prison like qualities like group thinking are some examples of psychic prison metaphor. Group think is dangerous as people acting in a group or crowed are les likely to reason rationality. They act in ways they wouldn't if they were individuals. It is important to encourage individuation and rational thought, instead of thinking and acting as a group.

In an organisation environment, there are numerous situations that cause anxiety and worry to people. All of us have defence mechanisms to counter anxiety producing situations. With the understanding of the organisational metaphors, it is easy to understand how they can be applied to solve the problem by integrating them in our problem analysis.

To ensure we had a real situation worth attention, we carried out a survey with questionnaires to be filled by other people who were vulnerable to discrimination and harassment from the male senior employees. A personal interview regarding general observations in the organisation was carried out and all employees participated. The third method I used to gauge the credibility of the complaint was group discussing between the accused and the victims. All these revealed that there are in deed hidden attitudes of discrimination in the organisation. This was in contrast to our organisational values and needed urgent attention.

The best metaphor to help solve this problem way a hard choice to make. This is because the suitable metaphor should communicate, instil ethical management practices and empower all employees no matter the level or position in the organisation. Because of this difficulty, I decide d to incorporate all the, hence the multi metaphor analysis of a problem.

The cultural metaphor was important in letting all the perpetrators and victims understand the roots, history and values of the organisation. Men and women are given equal opportunities as long as they qualify for positions they hold. It is therefore an offence to think that because of one's gender, she deserves lesser treatment or respect. It has always been our culture to treat all employees the same, irrespective of their gender or racial background. This equality is demonstrated by the free association hat employees are given equally, the equal division of labour, and the forms of empowerment provided by the organisation. These are privileges woven into our culture that makes it difficult for others to notice their relevance or uniqueness. Our company slogan, "the people's leader' does not differentiate which people, inside or outside, black or white, male or female. As we pride ourselves about leading people, it's important we keep our core values close to heart.

Understanding our culture not to share certain kinds of information, tacit knowledge) it was difficult to solve the problem using the culture metaphor. Not all information can be shared by people of all levels in the organisation. Some knowledge is meant only for the top and middle management.

This problem could have been solved by the political metaphor were it nit for the psychological effect it had on people, and the cultural impact on the organisation. This was a case of abuse of power. Politically, differences occur when there are opposing opinions and abuse of power. The accused male employees were clearly abusing their positions for their own self interests. Discrimination could have been an attempt to frustrate the women's efforts in offering competition for men. Because of their prestigious positions in the organisations, it is easier for men to control most organisational operations including information, resources, boundaries, etc. that form alliances amongst themselves easily and have negative effects on the female employees, especially of the lower level.

The psychic dimension came into place in dealing with the group psychology, the emotional states of the males and females, possible defence mechanism and appropriate decision making. A deeper investigation revealed that the accused males were close colleagues who consult each other on almost everything. Their psychological state during these instances is questionable, leading to maladaptive behaviour of harassing and discriminating fellow colleagues. They probably had deep negative attitudes towards female employees who show competition in their line of work. This was a probability to proven. The victims were encouraged to speak out their minds and reveal their true feelings as this was the only way to heal.

All employees were involved in a counselling retreat to provide them with effective coping skills. Training was also necessary to instil discipline and embed the organisation's values in all employees. I requested suggestions from both parties on what they think were the best way to solve this problem. They all contributed and the common strategy was to make laws against harassment and discrimination effective.

Deborah Vidaver-Cohen in her book, "Moral imagination in organisational problem solving; an institutional perspective" describes the moral approaches that can be used sole [problems in an organisation. In my attempt to seek different alternative to understand and solve the problem at hand, I incorporated her technique in my organisation... she emphasized the need to attain awareness which is the major strength in solving moral problems in an organisation. To attain awareness, there are steps to be followed. They involve;

Reproductive imagination. This is gauging a person's awareness in the perception of mo real factors in the context. Does the person understand the consequences of his/her actions? Are they aware of the possible moral conflicts? A manager should be able to understand the individual's perception of such factors and their respective schemas functioning in that context.

Productive imagination. This calls for reframing of the problem in different perspectives to avoid biases. The ability to influence ones schema to take into considerations other perspectives within the scope of the present situation.

Creative imagination. In attempt to make decisions, mangers should be able to develop a moral standing in order to formulate morally acceptable alternatives in problem solving.

Decisions are ways of organisation to learn and move forward. It includes planning, acting, monitoring and evaluating the present behaviours in order to come up with a frame work of moulding behaviours. Morgan (2006) explains that knowledge is the base of making decisions in an organisation. When knowledge concerning a problem has been acquired, it is represented to the concerned individuals or groups before making a decision

Attempted solutions require information acquisition from internal and external sources. This is done through various research methodologies like interviews. After the knowledge is acquired, facilitation of learning is the next step. Individual or group learning can be chose. This can be done through workshops or discussion retreats. Knowledge claim formulation is the last stage before the proposed decision is made.

In an attempt to solve the problem at my organisation, I gathered information as explained before and shared it with all employees o ensure they understood the situation at hand. The discussions, workshop and training programs were effective in ensuring that they understood organisation culture, and employed basic coping skills in the organisation.

Everyone was a made aware of the consequences of their behaviour to the organisation as a whole by following policies which explain disciplinary measures. The existing policies contained disciplinary measure against discrimination but needed to be made effective, and reformed. This was done with the help of senior employees together with junior ones

To summarize, it's important to identify organisational culture that describes our organisations. Attitudes and behaviours form cultures that are passed down to new employees. When talking about our organisations, it's important to use positive language and connotations since the psychological effects of language are tremendous. It can make or break the overall performance of the organisation. The image of the organisation is shaped by its belief, customs and laws that govern it. In close conjunction, the history of the organisation helps in understanding and seeing the future. History describes how things are done and at what scope (Ian, 1994).

The relationship between the organisation and its environment is to be scrutinised and understood in order to analyse the social context in which the organisation operates. However, care should be taken when using these metaphors of culture as it is easy to dismiss other important alternatives to achieve organisational goals. Over reliance of metaphors encourage manipulation of activities within the organisation. Culture metaphor operates within levels of conceptual and oriental.

Political systems describes the structure and context of the organisation in relation to power, alliances, control of resources, hidden agendas, interest, censorship, leadership, and conflicts. In every system involving human interaction, there must be conflicts resulting from differences of opinions, self interest, power, and control or resources. How these differences are resolved are dependent on the politics metaphors in the organisation. The metaphor explains the way things are done, by whom, and to whom. This includes the sources of power, hierarchical structure of the organisation, chain of command, and individual interests in the organisation.

The last metaphor discussed in this analysis is the psychic prison metaphor which deals with psychological state of both the organisation and individuals. The "organisation" in this context refers to the people in the organisation in relation to their roles in achieving organisation goals. The "individual" refers to a single person inside the organisation. Psychologists provide theories of understanding the behaviour of individuals that shape their personalities. To understand organisational way o f thought, it is important to understand the way of thought of individuals inside the organisation. Personality issues like defence mechanism, ego, repression and regression among others take upfront importance in understanding a person's personality. The effects of group thinking are also discussed and the need for individuation.

All these metaphors have limitations and as manager trying to solve a problem, it is best to incorporate all of them in understanding the broad organisation aspects. This helps in maximising options as opposed to using one. Integrating all of them in a problem analysis ensure that the final decision arrived at is possibly the best among all the available alternatives.

The methodologies used in collecting information are observation, questionnaires and personal interviews. The major challenge in organisations is the art of using these metaphors to shape situations. The policy was successfully implemented and with the help of all employees, re evaluated to gauge its feasibility. I encourage all managers to remain objective in their decision making, consult and involve all parties in problem solving situations. The methods used should be empirical without employing emotionality and personal judgement.