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Managing in the Organizational Context

According to John Roberts, whose text won the Economist book of the year in 2004, the most fundamental responsibility of senior managers is to make strategy and design the organization to implement it.  Designing organizations, the focus of this chapter, refers to the tasks of understanding, analyzing and creating structures, systems and processes to coordinate and motivate of large numbers of people.  Consequently, any manager wishing to progress his or her career needs to understand some of the basic principles of organizational design and some of the advantages and disadvantages of different organizational configurations.

New forms of organization, such as networked and flatter structures, have caught the imagination of the business press.  The chapter has quite a bit to say about these, but the accompanying resources should help you get a better fix on contemporary organizations and the problems of working and managing in them.

Although we do not have space to discuss strategy on this course, you cannot understand organizational design without having a basic understanding of how strategy and organizational forms relate to each other; indeed there is a currently fashionable view of strategy - the resource-based view - which argues that structure drives strategy as much as strategy drives structure.  This debate is taken up by academic strategy guru, Michael Porter, in some recent work which features on a podcast below.

Listen to the Gurus

Listen to this Knowledge at Wharton podcast on Michael Porter's ideas about why managers set bad strategies.

Then watch a video interview with Porter on YouTube, which is and excellent update and summary of his thinking

Listen to British guru, Charles Handy , talk about his developing ideas on organizations

Listen to Handy talk about Peter Drucker's work on organizations

Listen to Key Issues

Listen to Handy talk about Ricardo Semler's novel views on how to organize for empowerment

Additional Reading

John Roberts (2004) The Modern Firm: Organizational Design for Performance, New York: Oxford University Press is a book for the serious student who wants an economic perspective on organizational design.  Listen to Roberts talking about his book in a video on organization in global companies; read the introduction on the site and then watch the video, which is also useful for the next chapter on managing in the international context.

Read the paper by John Sviolka (2004)  on the emergence of networked organizations for a good introduction to the subject and some good data

For a good introduction to innovative organizations, their strategies and structures, you might want to read Clayton Christensen's latest book with Scott Anthony and Erik Roth 'Seeing What's Next: Using Theories of Innovation to Predict Industry Change', Boston:Harvard Business Review Press.

Read the AIM report on the Ambidextrous Organization for an insight into how organizations migh achieve a balance between alignment and difference

One of the big issues in modern organizational networks is collaboration.  Read the AIM report on Give and TakeI

deas on Customising the Material

For public sector managers, a good paper on managing performance in the public sector in the Executive Briefing from AIM

Again, for public sector managers, one of the best resources for research in this field is IBM's sponsored research programme on the Business of Government , where you can download a number of papers

Also look for papers on , which is a comprehensive site on management in the public sector

For UK readers, you might want to look again at Cardiff University's Centre for Local and Regional Government Research ()


One of the best academic texts on organizations is by Clegg, Kornberger and Pitsis.  Their excellent website for the book contains a number of interviews with well-known academics.  Listen to the interview with John Child, who has written extensively in this field.