Monday, March 06, 2006

organizations and culture

In case you didn’t remember, I’m a teacher. The other day we had a staff development training. In the training we referred to something we learned in a previous staff development. We learned about a way to categorize organizations along the lines of the ability for both the clients of the organization and the organization to choose the clients.

On of the extremes is an organization where they choose their clients and whose clients chose them. The other extreme is an organization where neither the organization nor the clients choose the relationship. Examples of the first case, where both choose, can be businesses and private schools. Examples of the second case are neighborhood schools and prisons.

What I started to appreciate was that the cultures in and around of these two extremes are vastly different. What I realized was that this categorization tool, could not only be only applied to the organizations themselves, but also the culture and societies of the clientele and the organization itself.

For instance, businesses are able to hire and fire at will, and people are free to choose whether to shop at a particular business or not. However, in impoverished neighborhoods this choice remains, but there are far fewer options. So there may be only one readily accessible grocery store serving a neighborhood, whereas in the suburbs a person can drive to three.

I was about to talk about the schools, but let me refer to something else. People choose to live where they do. The buildup of the suburbs since WWII has largely been a product of the choice of millions of people to live where green grass surrounds their house and thousands of other considerations. These people live where they live based on decisions that they or their parents have made in the past. However, the situation in the inner city isn’t so rosy. Many people live in the inner city simply by default. Sure there are other options available to them, if they have the money, time and drive to exercise them. However, the perception of there being a lot of options is less so than in the neighborhoods.

So what’s my point? The culture of an organization is made up of the perception of choices available to its members. A possible solution to ‘cleaning up the schools’ is by getting into a deliberate and protracted conversation about the nature of possibility, opportunity, choice, options and other things intimately related to free will. This conversation will have people uniquely related to the essential difference between reality and how they think about reality.
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