Traditional, Interpretive & Critical Perspectives on Organizations

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  • 0:05 Organizational Perspectives
  • 1:03 Traditional/Functional…
  • 2:20 Interpretive Perspective
  • 3:16 Critical Perspective
  • 4:21 Review of the Perspectives
  • 5:15 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Martin Gibbs

Martin has 16 years experience in Human Resources Information Systems and has a PhD in Information Technology Management. He is an adjunct professor of computer science and computer programming.

In this lesson, we'll cover three key perspectives of organizations and how they influence the organizational structure, its culture, and communication.

Organizational Perspectives

When studying organizational theory, you can get into the weeds pretty quickly. There are numerous theories, studies, typologies--not to mention a mountain of research and literature on the topic. To keep things reasonable, we'll stick to a level just above the tree tops. Let's take a look at three key perspectives of an organization's culture, and how these perspectives drive the organization's structure, culture, and communication.

An organization is a living, breathing thing, and you'll find that the research treats organizations as such. Titles such as 'Organizations in Action' indicate an entity that is not an abstract concept. As we examine an organization's culture and makeup, there are three perspectives we look at. In researcher-speak, we can call these lenses: That is, we will look at organizations with a filter on. These lenses, or filters, are called traditional, interpretive, and critical.

Traditional/Functional Perspective

Even if you knew little of organizational theory, you could probably guess that the traditional perspecitve (also called functional perspective) is one that is long established and more formal. As you look at the organization through the traditional lens, you see it as an object to be studied and molded by management.

The traditional view sees the culture of an organization as something that can be imposed by the will of management. Through a top-down approach, culture can be built up. Further, it assumes that employees can buy into the culture and make it their own (as it's told to them). Through this lens, the organizational structure itself is adaptable. Systems within the structure work together and organizations can grow and accept change.

In this view, communication within the organization is an object in and of itself. In other words, it is a tool to be used effectively. Messages are accurate and reliable. Remember that the focus is on management, and so the communication would be coming from the top down.

This may seem a little too focused on the top dogs pushing down the culture to the employees. And this perspective does have its critics because it focuses heavily on management. The traditional lens is a little clouded because we miss seeing the organization as a whole: We miss the humanity of the organization.

Interpretive Perspective

Let's change out our lens and look at the interpretive perspective. This perspective views the organization as a culture. We said organizations are living and breathing things, and this perspective embraces that concept.

Instead of communication and direction originating from the top, the organization's culture is shaped by its employees. At every layer of the organization, culture is being shaped and molded. When you look at communication through the interpretive lens, you see a flowing river instead of a drill sergeant's order. The actual reality of the organization is created through communication.

This perspective has its critics. People still have ulterior motives and seek to grow their power; this is not addressed in this perspective. Also, it's a nice view of the organization, but it doesn't offer any real action plans to strengthen culture (where the traditional approach assumes the directives all come from the top).

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