Mechanistic Thinking Essay, Research Paper
Organisations are tools to aid in achieving a set goal. Organisations same as corporations have been developing and improving with time to improve profitability through increased productivity and quality. Most organisations are run like machines 24 hour a day, 7 days a week. All complex tasks and goals have been subdivided into simple 1-step operations that can be controlled with machine precision. Mechanistic way of thinking supports centralised hierarchy where everybody follow set rules and procedures without even thinking, creating unhealthy bureaucracy which slows down or even stops any attempts of change and innovation. However, today s world is becoming very turbulent. Like a living organism, it needs to react instantaneously to number of inside and outside inputs in order to stay operational. This paper will discuss the issues and problems with mechanistic thinking and it effects on managers performance in today s organisations.
In the mechanical age it was believed the universe was understood and everything could by analysed by inquiry. Russell Ackoff (1993) describes it as a tree step process: take it apart, understand the pieces and put it together. Many aspects of the mechanistic world-view were to be reinforced in the Industrial Revolution in Europe. The mechanisation of work had spiral like effect on production. The production could be skyrocketed by simplifying production tasks. This was achieved by dividing every operation into simple steps. Every worker was in charge of one step to keep production at peak.
Mechanistic thinking has number of strengths. It can provide an efficient working environment. Using its three step analyse by inquiry process it can break any tasks into simple one step processes, that can be mastered to perfection. This gives the tasks unrealistic processing speed and unbelievable accuracy. Mechanistic organisations have tight control of power and order. It has well defined hierarchy and order of command. Everyone in an organisation knows their space , the tasks to do, the responsibilities they have. If a problem develops it is automatically evaluated, broken down and tasks and responsibilities associated to appropriate personnel.
Mechanistic organisation can only be successful in a stable well-defined environment. This on its own causes a problem as most organisations work in organic like randomly changing environment. Any unpredictable changes can push the system out of equilibrium and the whole organisation falls apart.
Another problem with mechanistic view is the human relation perspective. People can produce meaningless tasks for a limited time. They loose focus and inspiration when stretched for too long.
The centralised hierarchy is another problem where it can provide a barrier to communication.
Is it still used
Change & innovation
To better visualise the problem lets see an example of a task, for example submission and evaluation of a suggestion in OfficeWorks. The staff that finds a way to improve a service needs to submit its suggestion to its supervisor or suggestion box. Than the manager of the relevant department needs to approve it and resubmit it to the store manager. If approve it is then passed on to the state manager who needs to submit it to the central national office for evaluation. There a store is picked for a trial and if successful national policy is updated across all offices. This process can be seen as long and it will take some time before innovative idea can be implemented. It would have been easier if the store manager could initialise the evaluation in his store and pass the findings to the national office directly. This was the cycle could be shortened and the organisation would become more innovative and competitive.
When the rate of change in both the organisation and its environment is relatively low, it can be productive to view an organisation and its people as a great machine with precisely interlocking parts, and this is the essential mentality, which underlies classical management thinking. But in rapidly changing environments, mechanistic thinking is not productive, and it becomes essential to recognise that social and biological entities have much more flexibility and adaptiveness than machines.
Organisations and human beings are complex systems, whose behaviour can neither be precisely predicted nor precisely controlled. At best, we can learn to gradually influence the behaviour of such systems as they continuously modify themselves and their actions in relation to the continuously changing environments in which they exist. In healthy living systems, the process of continuous change results in a dynamic balance between having structure on the one hand and having flexibility on the other. Today’s managers need to focus on identifying and enhancing their own and their organisation s ability to maintain their appropriate balance
Ackoff, R., (1993). From Mechanistic to Social Systemic Thinking. April 2001. [on-line] http://www.mngt.waikato.ac.nz/depts/mnss/courses/emba/ackoff/tsld001.htm