One of the key figures in the Human Relations Movement, which reached its peak in the 60’s and 70’s, Argyris argues for the recognition that organisational goals and personal goals of the employees are (usually) in conflict.
In the formal organisation, he says that employees are expected to be passive and subordinate, to accept little control over their work, to have a short term outlook, and are expected to produce under conditions leading to psychological failure. He says that these characteristics are incongruent to the ones that healthy human beings are postulated to desire.
He went on to argue for less structured forms of organisation that enabled people to express themselves within a company, not just to conform to it. He argued that most organisations were run on the basis of coercive power which tends to make them rigid. He calls for organisations to be run on the basis of knowledgeable groups and says that the matrix organisation is designed less around power and more around who has the relevant information. As early as 1967, he wrote
“Groups are necessary for executive decision making because computer technology now makes it possible to generate and organise information that is beyond the capacity of one man to understand much less to evaluate, and because they can generate internal commitment to decisions.”
Looking back, we would say that in 1967 computing was in its infancy. How more true today is Argyris’ comment when we are used to the internet, intranets and the fact that one of the most important companies in the world, Oracle, sells essentially a database system?
Argyris says, in his study of the decision making processes at the top of a large firm,
“I concluded that the members unknowingly behaved in such a way as not to encourage risk-taking, openness, expression of feelings and cohesive, trusting relationships.”
One of his major works is Organisational Learning which introduced the difference between single and double loop learning.