Organisations, in one form or another, dominate our lives. This may be the company that employs us, the school or university where we study, or the hospital that cares for us. Organisations underpin the working of our complex and advanced society. They provide us with work, but also intellectual and emotional support and stimulation. Indeed, our organisational affiliations often form a central part of our identities. Organisational milestones – our first day at work, our retirement – are amongst the most important events of our lives.
Yet organisations also control and structure our lives in ways that can both constrain our freedom to act and suppress our individuality. We have to go to work at set hours, are asked to do things by our bosses that we sometimes don’t want to do, or find morally questionable. We are required to fit in. Organisations also shape us in more subtle, pervasive, ways. We grow to accept the organisational world that we live in as natural, and take for granted our relationship with it.
Organisations therefore have a deeply ambiguous role in our lives. At the same time enabling our prosperity and playing a central role in our social lives, they also limit our freedoms, shape our assumptions about the world, and sometimes compel us to act against our better instincts.
It is this central yet ambiguous role of organisations that fascinates me, and I keep coming back to some key questions. What is the role of organisations in society? Do we work for organisations or should they work for us? Do they function in a rational way, or are they a product of cultural and ideological forces? Is there a better way to organise our world?
This blog is designed to capture some of my thoughts on organisations. Some of the content relates to my PhD dissertation, some to my teaching of organisation theory. Much of it relates to my personal experiences of a number of different organisations: as employee, manager, customer, student and patient.