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Reframing Organizations , 3 rd ed. Chapter 13. Organization as Theater. Organization as Theater. Institutional theory Organizational structure as theater Organizational process as theater. Organizational Theater. Theater plays to both internal and external audiences.

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Chapter 13

Chapter 13

Organization as Theater

Organization as theater
Organization as Theater

  • Institutional theory

  • Organizational structure as theater

  • Organizational process as theater

Organizational theater
Organizational Theater

  • Theater plays to both internal and external audiences.

  • A convincing dramaturgical performance reassures external constituents, builds confidence, and keeps critics at bay.

Institutional theory
Institutional Theory

  • “Institutionalized organizations” focus more on appearance than on performance.

  • When goals are ambiguous and performance hard to measure (as in universities and many government agencies), organizations maintain stakeholder support by staging the right play, conforming to audience expectations of how the organization should operate.

Dimaggio and powell the iron cage revisited
DiMaggio and Powell, “The Iron Cage Revisited…”

  • Isomorphism: process of becoming similar to other organizations in the same “organizational field”

    • Coercive isomorphism: organizations become alike because law, regulation, or stakeholders pressure them to do so.

    • Mimetic isomorphism: organizations become more alike by copying one another.

    • Normative isomorphism: organizations employing the same professionals become similar because the professionals have similar values and ideas.

Organizational structure as theater
Organizational Structure as Theater

  • Structure as stage design—an arrangement of lights, props, and costumes

    • Makes drama vivid and credible

    • Reflects and expresses current values and myths

  • Public schools reassure stakeholders if…

    • The building and grounds look like a school

    • Teachers are certified

    • Curriculum mirrors society’s expectations

  • Colleges judged by:

    • Age, endowment, beauty of campus

    • Faculty-student ratio

    • Whether faculty have degrees from elite institutions

Organizational process as theater
Organizational Process as Theater

  • Activities (meetings, planning, performance appraisal, etc.) often fail to produce intended outcomes yet persist because they help sustain organizational drama.

    • Scripts and stage markings that cue actors as to what to do and how to behave

    • Opportunities for self-expression and forums for airing grievances

    • Reassure audiences that organization is well managed and important problems are being addressed

Organizational process as theater ii
Organizational Process as Theater (II)

  • Meetings as “garbage cans”

    • Meetings attract an unpredictable mix of problems looking for solutions, solutions looking for problems, and participants seeking opportunities for self-expression.

  • Planning

    • Plans are symbols.

    • Plans become games.

    • Plans become excuses for interaction.

    • Plans become advertisements.

Organizational process as theater ii1
Organizational Process as Theater (II)

  • Evaluations

    • Often fail in intended goals of improving performance and identifying strengths and weaknesses

    • Ceremony signals organization is well managed and cares about performance improvement

  • Collective bargaining

    • Public face: intense, dramatic contest

    • Private face: back-stage negotiation, collusion

  • Power

    • Exists in eye of beholder—you are powerful if others think you are

    • May be attributed based on outcomes


  • Organizations are judged by appearance.

  • The right drama:

    • Provides a ceremonial stage

    • Reassures stakeholders

    • Maintains confidence and faith

  • Drama serves powerful symbolic functions:

    • Engages actors in their performances

    • Builds excitement, hope, sense of momentum