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The Inadequacy of Bureaucratic Organizations: Organizational Adaptation through Boundary Spanning in a Civil-Military Context
Karlstad University, Faculty of Social and Life Sciences, Department of Social Studies.
2012 (English)In: Res Militaris, E-ISSN 2265-6294, Vol. 3, no 1, p. 1-23Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

Governmental bodies such as the Armed Forces are examples of bureaucratic organizations characterized by centralized hierarchical structure, rationality, stability, impersonal rules, clear boundaries, responsibility and authority. Critics claim that because of a rigid structure, organizations with a strict vertical hierarchy of authority do not function well in non-routine situations where creativity and flexibility are required. But hierarchy survives by incorporating elements that are not traditionally found in a classically bureaucratic structure. In the military context, liaison officers and military observers are examples of such elements, frequently operating with a high degree of independence between the boundaries of their own organization and its environment. The purpose of this study is to explore how bureaucratic, hierarchically structured organizations can function in a demanding and dynamic environment characterized by life and death situations? Twenty-one informants (mainly military officers) were interviewed. They had a variety of experiences and occupational roles in civil-military collaboration contexts. A grounded theory analysis of interview data shows that military organizations' adaptation to unpredictable environments can be empirically shown to be a balancing act between improvisation and flexibility on the one hand and the pursuit of structure and adherence to established hierarchical order on the other. For adaptation to be possible there must be actors (boundary spanners or links) to implement it, and meeting grounds (temporary organization) on which to work and get their act together.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Paris: Res Militaris , 2012. Vol. 3, no 1, p. 1-23
Keywords [en]
Bureaucratic organization, military, demanding environment, adaptation, structure, flexibility, improvisation, temporary organizations, links, boundary spanners
National Category
Social Sciences Sociology
Research subject
Sociology
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:kau:diva-26443OAI: oai:DiVA.org:kau-26443DiVA, id: diva2:606937
Available from: 2013-01-17 Created: 2013-02-21 Last updated: 2018-07-19Bibliographically approved
In thesis
1. Bridging Boundaries in the Borderland of Bureaucracies: Individual Impact on Organisational Adaption to Demanding Situations in Civil and Military Contexts
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Bridging Boundaries in the Borderland of Bureaucracies: Individual Impact on Organisational Adaption to Demanding Situations in Civil and Military Contexts
2013 (English)Doctoral thesis, comprehensive summary (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

The purpose of this thesis is to reach a deeper understanding of how boundary spanners are bridging boundaries between uniformed bureaucratic organisations and their environment, characterised by demanding conditions.

The main part of this thesis is based upon empirical data gathered through 71 interviews with Swedish civil and military informants from several uniformed organisations. Four articles have been included in this thesis in order to address the overarching aim.

The results show that boundary spanners are crucial to the adaption of uniformed organisations to demanding conditions. A number of aspects that are included in the process of organisational adaption have been identified. One of the tasks is to balance between structuring and improvisation where much is at stake. The other task is to create confidence among the involved actors and contribute in different ways to create a sense of symmetry between partners. Finally, the third task for boundary spanners is to recognise improvised roles such as spontaneous links in order to maintain stressful conditions and bridge a gap in the bureaucratic organisation. 

The present thesis contributes to sociological theory of emotions, disaster management and military studies through a common denominator, namely the demanding context. Taken together, the findings increase awareness of how organisations act towards their environments and how individuals, especially boundary spanners, adapt the organisation to its environment. For leaders and managers, it is important to make decisions, provide mandates and authorisation, as well as invest confidence in boundary spanners. The hierarchical chain may remain in existence, but it can be made shorter and more transparent through this kind of knowledge.

 

 

Abstract [en]

BAKSIDESTEXT:

Organisational adaption to the environment is a complex area of research, necessitating enquiry into how such adaption may take place. The purpose of this thesis is to reach a deeper understanding of how boundary spanners are bridging boundaries between uniformed bureaucratic organisations and their environment, characterised by demanding conditions such as disasters and war.

The main body of the thesis is based upon interviews with Swedish civil and military informants. The results show that boundary spanners are crucial to the adaption of uniformed organisations to demanding conditions. Their tasks involve balancing between structuring and improvisation, creating confidence among the involved actors and recognising improvised roles such as spontaneous links in order to maintain stressful conditions and bridge a gap in the bureaucratic organisation. 

Taken together, the findings increase awareness of how organisations act towards their environments and how individuals, especially boundary spanners, adapt the organisation to its environment. For leaders and managers, it is important to make decisions, provide mandates and authorisation, as well as invest confidence in boundary spanners. The hierarchical chain may remain in existence, but it can be made shorter and more transparent through this kind of knowledge.

The present thesis contributes to sociological theory of emotions, disaster management and military studies through a common denominator, namely the demanding context.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Karlstad: Karlstads universitet, 2013. p. 93
Series
Karlstad University Studies, ISSN 1403-8099 ; 2013:12
Keywords
Boundary spanners, uniformed organisations, bureaucratic organisations, adaption, systems theory, contingency, stressful environment, civil-military relations, disaster management, emotional labour, Gränsöverskridare, uniformerade organisationer, byråkratier, anpassning, systemteori, contingency, påfrestande förhållanden, civil-militära relationer, katastrofhantering, emotionellt lönearbete
National Category
Sociology
Research subject
Sociology
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:kau:diva-26445 (URN)978-91-7063-487-1 (ISBN)
Public defence
2013-04-05, Andersalen, 11D 121, Karlstads universitet, Karlstad, 13:00 (Swedish)
Opponent
Supervisors
Available from: 2013-03-19 Created: 2013-02-21 Last updated: 2013-03-19Bibliographically approved

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