Organizational Boundaries and the Partial Inclusion of Participants in External Perspective of Organizations

We have argued that organizations are coalitions, maintained by providing inducements (satisfaction) to participants who support the organization. All participants and those affected by the organization can evaluate it, and because of the number and diveisity of interests in the coalition constituting most organizations, the managements of organizations face the problem of dealing with inconsistent criteria and competing demands.

We suggest that this perspective on organizations facilitates addressing the problem of precisely what constitutes the organization, or where its boundaries are. The problem of drawing the boundary mound a social system has been a perplexing one. Individual boundaries are, apparently, more easily discerned. Nature has neatly pack- aged people into skins, animals into hides, and allowed trees to enclose themselves with bark. It is easy to see where the unit is and where the environment is. Not so for social organizations. Are suppliers part of the organization, or part of its environment? Consider the case of computer manufacturers who may station personnel for a long time at the “customer’s” installation to perform systems engineering work. Are customers part of the organization? In many instances, such as in building a ship, engineers from the customer organization may participate in much of the on-site work, along with the workers from the shipbuilding organization. Not only are organizations not neatly bundled, but they can alter the particular participants in them over time. Thus, descriptions of an organization developed by inventorying its parts at one point in time may describe nothing about the same organization at another point in time.

One solution to the problem of inclusion is that suggested by Haberstroh (1965) and Downs (1967): Draw the organizational boundaries as a matter of analytical convenience, much as analytical boundaries are drawn in the analysis of heat-transfer systems. For some purposes, then, customers might be considered part of the organization, and for others, they might not. Although this particular solution may be useful for a person studying some given aspect of an organization, it is not as helpful for understanding how organizations operate.

The problem of inclusion was recognized by March and Simon (1958) in their discussion of the inducements-contributions balance. For these authors, individuals participated in the organization to the extent they received inducements which exceeded in value, for them, the value of the contributions they were required to make. Thus, cus- tomers, for example, make contributions to the organization in the form of money and receive inducements in the form of products and services. Although March and Simon’s perspective is an improvement, it still misses an important point by emphasizing the individuals involved rather than the behavior or activities.

The reason there is so much difficulty in drawing social-system boundaries is that it is behaviors that are organized, not individual people. “It is vital to note that it is behaviors, not persons, that are interstructured” (Weick, 1969:46). As Allport (1962) has pointed out, any given individual is only partially included in any system of orga- nized behaviors, being also partly included in many other behavior systems as well. Consequently, it is perfectly possible for a person to be both part of an organization and part of its environment through different behaviors occurring at different times. By focusing on distinct physical units, such as individual persons, rather than on behavior patterns, the problems of drawing the boundaries around social systems have been made more difficult.

Discussing the nature of a small group, Allport (1962) and Weick (1969) both persuasively argue that it is cycles of behavior that become organized in a collective structure, and that any given individual is only partly included in the group. “A person does not invest all his behavior in a single group; commitments and interlockings are dispersed among several groups” (Weick, 1969:46). While a group is a concept that becomes, in a sense, less tangible when it is defined in terms of interlocked behaviors or collective structure, it is also probably more valid, because the notion of partial inclusion has been recognized by many persons who have dealt with small-group phenomena.

Recognizing that it is activities that are interstructured in creating organizations is important because under some conditions the particular individuals responsible for those activities can be replaced and the same activities can be continued by others. The organization has the ability to make decisions to initiate activities on its behalf. Because the activities are interstructured, the organization’s ability to engage in actions depends on its’ability to locate individuals who will do them. g, What the organization is able to accomplish at any point is the result of the interstructured activities it i.c a hie to induce individuals to per- form. The work of the organization, then, does not depend completely on individuals but on the activities that the organization is able to initiate and control.

The nature of the partial inclusion is explicitly recognized in the process of the acceptance of legitimate power, or authority, by employees entering an organization. At that time it is recognized that while the organization has the right to coordinate and control some behaviors related to organizational tasks, the individual retains control over other behaviors. A supervisor can tell an employee how to do the job but not what to eat for lunch. The conflict between the require- ments of different roles in different behavior structures has been called interrole conflict (Kahn et al., 1964). An individual’s partial inclusion in many groups or organizations makes it possible that the demands on behavior made in one structure may be inconsistent or incompatible with demands on behavior made in another group or organization.

The concept of interrole conflict illustrates the basis of power that participants have in determining the organizations activities. Indi-viduals participating in different collective structures with different requirements must choose between the demands of those structures.

This ability to choose is the basis of their discretion to create the activities desired by the organization for its operation. Extending this idea to all of the individuals and organizations which transact with a ! focal organization, it should be clear that the focal organization’s activities depend to a great extent on the limits of its discretion and on \ the discretion of those who interstructure their activities with the other 1participants and members of the organizational coalition. The organization is, in essence, organizing the activities defining its operation.

When it is recognized that it is behaviors, rather than individuals, that are included in structures of coordinated behavior, then it is possible, at least conceptually, to define the extent to which any given person is or is not a member of an organization. A person’s inclusion in a collective structure can be defined as the proportion of his or her behavior included in that structure, or the amount of the person’s behavior included in that particular behavior structure divided by the total amount of the person’s behavior in all structures.

An important corollary to the notion that participants are partially included in the organization through their activities is: The organization survives to the extent that the activities included are sufficient for the organization to maintain itself. The organization is the total set of interstructured activities in which it is engaged at any one time and over which it has discretion tn initiate, maintain, or end behaviors. Although this may seem difficult to visualize, it recognizes the coali- tional nature of organizations and that the survival of the organization depends on the set of activities over which it has control. This conceptualization explicitly recognizes the external basis of organizations. The organization ends where its discretion ends and another’s begins. The tenuous nature of the organization as an entity can be most easily observed when its own discretion is challenged and others assume control over the activities. One might think that General Motors designs its automobiles. Then, consider the impact of the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Transportation and its safety requirements, the various consumer groups, and think again about the extent to which General Motors (or any other automobile manufacturer) has discretion over the design of its automobiles. The discretion of General Motors’ management can be limited by those with the means and interest to do so.

When the social-system boundary problem is approached from the perspective of interlocked or coordinated behaviors, rather than from the perspective of individual participants, much of the ambiguity about where the organization begins and the environment ends disappears. The boundary is where die discretion of the organization to control an activity is less than the discretion of another nrgamVatinn nr

Source: Pfeffer Jeffrey, Salancik Gerald (2003), The External Control of Organizations: A Resource Dependence Perspective, Stanford Business Books; 1st edition

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