Modes of Political Rule

Organisational politics can influence others. Discuss Morgan’s modes of political rule in organisations concluding whether politics is a good or a bad thing.

Gareth Morgan's work in organizational theory has been noteworthy in the last few decades and heavily influenced the field in both theory and practice. This paper will examine his views on political rule in organizations, using his framework of metaphorical perspective, and the local Michigan, USA municipality of Dalton Township as a practical and applied example. And, we will answer whether politics is good or bad.

Politics can be defined as "the relationships within a group or organization that allow particular people to have power over others." Therefore, the focal concept is power in relationships. Power can be defined as the "ability to control people and events." (Cambridge Dictionary, 2022) This is similar to Morgan in that "Power is the medium through which conflicts of interest are ultimately resolved." (Morgan, 1998, pg 162), and "Power influences who gets what, when and how." (Morgan, 2006, pg 166)

It's important to understand Morgan's concept of metaphor. His most popular and influential work is based explicitly on the premise that "...all theories of organization and management are based on implicit images or metaphors that lead us to see, understand, and manage organizations in distinctive yet partial ways." (Morgan, 2006, pg 4) This point is emphasized and we must remember that in focusing on organizations as political systems we are pulling that metaphor to the foreground and pushing the other seven metaphors that Morgan offers to the background, namely: organizations as machines, organisms, brains, cultures, psychic prisons, flux and transformation, and instruments of domination. (Morgan, 1997)

All organizations have some form of structure through which power and decisions are directed, these can be considered modes of rule. There are many types of government structure. Morgan explicitly lists six: autocracy, bureaucracy, technocracy, codetermination, representative democracy, and direct democracy. (Morgan, 1997, pg 157) He also notes that pure forms are rare. 

In point of practical fact let's look at Dalton Township. A township exists within a system of levels of government. The Village of Lakewood Club is inside of Dalton Township, which is inside of Muskegon County, which is in the state of Michigan, which is part of the United States of America. All of these legal, political, financial, and logistical systems interact in a myriad of complicated ways. We will focus on just the Dalton organization. There is a seven person elected board. The supervisor, clerk, and treasurer are full-time positions that make up the executive committee. There are four trustees that attend monthly meetings and vote on issues along with the executive committee, but the trustees are not involved in daily operations of the organization.

It's clear that this is representative democracy. But, if we look through the list and compare it to how the township works then we will find every mode of rule operating in the organization. There are duties given by state statute for the elected positions, some are that the supervisor oversees property assessing and moderates board meetings, that the treasurer receives tax money and manages investments, the clerk runs elections, pays bills, keeps records, and responds to FOIA requests. So, within certain realms more control is held by certain officials, and the executive committee as a group, and therefore has some tendency toward autocracy.

There are the various state and federal laws that the township must operate by. In addition to those there are the policies, procedures, resolutions, and ordinances adopted and codified by the township itself. Therefore there is a degree of bureaucracy in the organization.

Even though the supervisor oversees the fire department, maintenance and grounds, the transfer station, enforcement, assessing, building, and zoning, it doesn't mean that I have the technical skills and knowledge to be able to do all of those tasks. I organize those that can do those tasks to do them. Therefore there is a degree of technocracy in the organization.

There are of course disagreements among the board members as to priorities across several areas. Yet, progress must also be made. The common ground that is found and can be agreed upon is where we make that progress. Therefore there is a degree of codetermination in the organization.

There are certain things that can be or must be added to the ballot to be directly voted on. For instance, I plan to propose increasing the fire operating millage in 2023. This must be a full public vote. Therefore there is a degree of direct democracy in the organization.

Morgan notes that where interests are in conflict a method of power is used to resolve the situation. He lists 14 sources of power: formal authority; control of scarce resources; use of organizational structure, rules, and regulations; control of decision processes; control of knowledge and information; control of boundaries; ability to cope with uncertainty; control of technology; interpersonal alliances, networks, and control of "informal organization"; control of counterorganizations; symbolism and the management of meaning; gender and the management of gender relations; structural factors that define the stage of action; and the power that one already has. (Morgan, 1997, pg 171) These are wielded by people coming from a spectrum with three frames of reference on how aligned personal and societal interests are: aligned unitarians, mixed pluralists, and disparate radicals. (Morgan, 1997, pg 199-208) The tendency to satisfy ones own concerns versus others can be charted on an x and y axis creating five general styles of behavior in conflicting situations: competing, collaborating, compromising, avoiding, and accommodating. (Morgan, 1997, pg 206) All of this knowledge and all of these frameworks are informative and useful in both the analyzing and operating of an organization. While keeping in mind that the metaphor of the organization as a political system has unavoidable distortions, as all metaphors do, it's clear to conclude that this metaphor carries significant utility.

To ask if politics is good or bad is a misunderstanding of the concept and the reality. Politics in an organization is unavoidable because there will be relationships, there will be interests, there will be disagreements, there will be power, and there will be action. Politics is a way to resolve that without regressing to war, violence, or coercion. Politics is a process of negotiated peace. (Jeffrey Alexander Martin, 2022) Morgan states this as "...politics and politicking may be an essential aspect of organizational life and not necessarily an optional and dysfunctional extra. In this regard, it is useful to remember that in its original meaning the idea of politics stems from the view that, where interests are divergent, society should provide a means of allowing individuals to reconcile their differences through consultation and negotiation." (Morgan, 1997, pg 154) Therefore, even if there is a distaste for politics, the alternative must be kept in mind, and in general we can conclude that it is a positive aspect and perhaps synonymous with civilization itself.

Reference List:

Cambridge Dictionary (2022) "politics" and "power" accessed on 26 September 2022 at: and

Jeffrey Alexander Martin (2022) Political Column - Reaction, Revolution, and Reform. Accessed on 26 September 2022 at:

Morgan, Gareth (1997) Images of Organization. 2nd Edition. Thousand Oaks, CA, USA: SAGE Publications, Inc.

Morgan, Gareth (1998) Images of Organization. The Executive Edition. Thousand Oaks, CA, USA: SAGE Publications, Inc. and San Francisco, CA, USA: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc.

Morgan, Gareth (2006) Images of Organization. Thousand Oaks, CA, USA: Sage Publications, Inc.

Popovich MG (1998) ‘Mastering the politics of change’. Creating High Performance Government Organizations. San Francisco CA: Jossey Bass.

Senior B, S Swailes & C Carnall (2020) Organizational Change. 6th Edition. Harlow UK: Pearson Education.



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