What all of this means is that the world of organisations is very complex, and it is difficult, if not impossible, to create a coherent picture at any one time of what is happening within and externally to the organisation. Karl Weick, an American psychologist, sees organisations as sense-making systems that socially construct their realities by making sense of what is going on both within and outside the organisation. Members explore issues and hold conversations that allow them to create a ‘reality’ that they can understand. The following extract sets out some of Weick’s key ideas.
Sense making is rolling hindsight. It is a continual weaving of sense from beliefs, from implicit assumptions, from tales from the past, from unspoken premises for decision and action, and from ideas about what will happen as a result of what can be done. Once put into words it is constrained and framed by those same words because they are only approximately what they refer to. Often words have multiple meanings, so all the time people are working with puns. Further, words are inclined to convey discrete categories: they are not equal to depicting the unbroken, complex flow of life in organizations.
The sense that is made is shaped also by selective perception, that is, by noticing some things and not others. Commitments that have been made then have to be justified retrospectively. There is a constant process of putting together reasoned arguments and arguing about them, most obviously in meetings which have a value as sense making occasions. However, the sense that is made has its limits. People with time to spend on a problem at a meeting make sense of it in away most understandable to themselves, so others become less able to follow what is afoot. Showing up at meetings therefore produces a situation that is manageable only by those who have been showing up.
The whole sense making process gives ostensible orderliness to what is going on, and has gone on. The development of a ‘generic sense making’, within which individuals differ yet sufficiently concur, maintains a sense of organization …
Whatever the form of organization, it will have to work with ambiguous, uncertain, equivocal and changing information. Despite their facade of numbers and objectivity and accountability, organizations and those who manage them wade amidst guesswork, subjectivity and arbitrariness. Weick feels that language could better reflect this constant ambiguous flux by making more use of verbs and less of nouns. Indeed, he urges people to ‘stamp out nouns’: to think of managing rather than management, of organizing rather than organization …
He offers managers and others in organizations ten further ‘pieces of advice’:
This means that organisations are complex dynamic systems that are difficult to describe except via snapshots of their reality at particular moments in time. ‘The organisation is in a continuous state of becoming’ (Zeitz, 1980, pp. 72–88).
To what extent do Weick’s ideas assist you in understanding the reality of your organisational world?
Throughout section 2 you were asked at various points to consider certain questions and ideas you read about. You may like to use your Learning Journal as you look back through the text in order to answer the following questions:
As you read the following section make notes on the following: you may like to use your Learning Journal to record your notes.
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