Experiencing Organizations


Stephen Fineman & Yiannis Gabriel

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    This book could not have happened without the insights and perceptiveness of our students of Business Administration at the University of Bath's School of Management, during the years 1993–95. Their fascinating experiences stimulated the writing of the book, and provided a large measure of its content. We are also indebted to Sue Jones of Sage Publications whose support for our project has been consistent and enthusiastic.

  • Final Thoughts

    This is a book of stories - stories which chronicle life in organizations, seen through the enquiring eyes of our students. Like any book of stories, our book stands or falls by whether readers find the material interesting, amusing, moving, alarming; in short, whether it resonates with their own experiences and interests.

    We found these stories rich, diverse and full of the kind of detail of organizational life which often goes unreported in conventional books. Our commentary has drawn your attention to some of these features, some themes and some contrasts. We have resisted the temptation of over-elaborating on the meanings that the stories held for us. Over-interpreting a story, like explaining a joke or dissecting a play, can kill it; it is a sign of a good story that it will evoke different feelings and different meanings in each person. There is no reason why readers should not reflect on individual accounts, examine what their own reactions might have been had they held the role of the central character in the tale, and unravel what made the situation important for the storyteller.

    The accounts in this book were not chosen for any reason other than they each seemed meaningful and interesting to us. We had not planned to group the chapters of this book in three parts, yet as we started to reflect on the material, the three broad themes - images and reality, winning and losing, injuries and survival - seemed virtually to recommend themselves. It can be said that these large themes reflect the preoccupations of young people about to embark upon careers in business.

    The composite picture of organizations which emerges from these accounts is rather dark. This may be due in part, as suggested earlier, to the storytellers' disappointed idealism or premature cynicism; but we feel that it also says something about the harsher, turbulent realities of organizational life which they encountered. At the turn of the twentieth century, ruthless competitiveness, uncertainty, arbitrariness and moral confusion seemed to be becoming endemic in many organizations. While management rhetoric was extolling quality, teamwork and the value of the human resource, the lives of many in organizations became precarious, selfish and unpredictable. Reputations and careers were rapidly made and even more rapidly fell to pieces. Defensiveness, suspicion, fear and contempt discoloured relations between people. These are all characteristics of times of turbulent social change, of an era which will bring about a shake up of social norms, standards and expectations.

    How useful are the stories as windows into the organizations themselves? Clearly, no claim can be made either about the factual accuracy of anyone of them or about the extent to which an incident is typical of the organization as a whole, beyond the student's assurances to that effect. Yet, in reading and reflecting on the reports, we envisaged a test of validity which, in our view, most of them would pass. If we were senior managers or directors in the company from which a story emanated, would we find something practically useful, something to think about or work on, in terms of our own managerial aims and objectives? Do the stories tell us something about our organization which, prima facie, would be worthy of further enquiry and possible action?

    It seems to us that the stories contain much useful material in this sense. They are unusually frank expressions of real experience which, as managers, we would worry about - or even find rather shocking. How well are we employing these bright, young people? Are we misleading them? Are we allowing them to experience important rewards soon enough? Are their stories revealing aspects of decline or arthritis in our organization that we cannot, or will not, see? How might we reverse this? Are we allowing cliques of powerful people to run the place, under the guise of democracy? What of our equal opportunities policy - is it really a sham? Do we have a meaningful and effective human resource management policy? An even more uncomfortable thing to ask - are we, personally, the main part of the problem?

    We leave the closing words to one of our students:

    Having your illusions shattered is a thought-provoking experience. And seeing such internal conflict on my second day, working for a company I thought I knew, definitely changed the way I then went on to interact with people within the company. What had I been taught? That the problem with so many large organizations is the bureaucratic red tape that shadows anything anyone attempts to do. As I sat in the conference room, surrounded by portraits of board members, my mind returned to lecture halls and tedious theories of organizational structure. To say that theory had turned into reality may seem to be a gross cliche but I remember feeling how ironic the situation was and how well it fitted into everything I had learnt.

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