Last Updated on 04/03/2023 by Sophia
Organizations are compared to objects which have similarities to them metaphorically they are essential in providing critical details or functioning that are rarely noticed when evaluating an organization (Mumby, 2012). The machine metaphor is commonly used in comparing different companies to machines in their operations. During the industrial revolution, numerous societal changes were complex and people began to carry out different activities in a complicated way (Holm, 2020). Different theorists began to use the machine metaphor to explain the different theories used. The machine metaphor comprises of four different components that are commonly discussed and include predictability, replaceability, specialization, and standardization.
Predictability refers to the aspect of forecasting the outcomes of an activity being carried out. Machines operate and perform different tasks by being governed by set rules. Without the rules, it would be impossible for the machines to work efficiently (Haken et al., 2012). When a machine fails to operate, there are different reasons which can be attributed to the breakdown. These reasons enhance the formulation of possible solutions to fix the machine. The solutions are put in a user’s maintenance manual where the mechanic can refer to for fixing. Organizations operate similarly (Mumby, 2012). When there is a problem that causes failures in the organization, the constitution is the manual used to provide the next steps towards solving the problem. Governments operate similarly and use the element of predictability in their operations to minimize failures.
Replaceability element considers the aspect of replacing a standardized part that has either broken down or is behind in technology. Machines are made of different parts that are easily replaced due to various reasons (Porush, 2018). Similarly, organizations are made of different components especially human resources. Employees within a company carry out different activities and they can be replaced when a need arises (Holm, 2020). These people can be fired or retire and the company employs others with the same or with higher qualifications. This depends on the interests and decisions of the management. In reference to the government, different civil servants such as the chief justice, ambassadors, ministers, and many others are replaced by different regimes that are in power.
In the specialization aspect, this refers to carrying out one unique operation and not being able to do any other. Machines are meant to carry out specific activities. The uniqueness of the machines makes them specialized in the operation and cannot be used in other areas (Haken et al., 2012). For instance, a computer has different parts that have unique and specialized purposes. The keyboard is meant for typing and navigating the computer but cannot do any other task while the battery is for power storage for the computer. All the parts of the computer are interrelated for it to function. This is similar to an organization setup. Organizations are departmentalized where each department has a different function from the other but all work to attain the ultimate goal of the company (Mumby, 2012). Governments usually have three arms of governance namely the executive, judiciary, and legislature. They are meant to govern and make the lives of their people better and thus, they have to work together but in different and specialized sectors.
The last aspect is standardization which means that there must be a similarity between elements of the same build. Similar machines are designed in a manner that their parts are the same such that one part can be removed from a machine and be put on another and operate normally (Porush, 2018). For instance, if a car windscreen breaks, you can easily buy another and replace it and the car continues to function normally. For employees in an organization, they are employed through a standardized procedure that ensures they have similar qualifications. This ensures that there is uniformity in carrying out operations and having similar outputs (Mumby, 2012). Due to the standardization of qualifications, it is easier to replace a person with another with similar qualities and the works continues as usual.
Organizational communication entails the process of sending and receiving information between interconnected people within the same environs to attain a common or individual goal (Putnam & Mumby, 2013). Understanding how organization communication operates, it can be described using the machine metaphor. Using the four elements of machine metaphor, organization communication can be described in how it operates. The machine metaphor describes the organizational structure as a complex web that describes the flow of messages, its purpose, and the people involved. For an organization to operate effectively and achieve the intended purpose, people must communicate to share information so that they can work harmoniously (Haken et al., 2012). Communication can either be top-down, bottom-up or from external sources. This enables the organization to succeed. A machine has different parts which have to receive or send information to a central point so that there can be coordination when it is working. Through predictability, replaceability, standardization, and specialization, each part works appropriately and information is transferred (Porush, 2018). In organizations, the elements also apply to people as the employees and the top management has to communicate. It is easy to predict the outcomes, replace the workers, specify the message, and standardize their qualifications for communication to occur efficiently.
Taylor came up with the Theory of Scientific Management which advocated for increased efficiency for the workers. Taylor proved that there is always a better way to carry out a task by using time and motion studies. Through proper selection of workers, training them, and rewarding their good work, this would increase their performance and work within the shortest time possible (Holm, 2020). Organizational communication is essential between workers as it helps in minimizing the time used for each activity. For instance, in a fast-food drive-through, employees in the kitchen work simultaneously but in different areas to ensure that your order is delivered in good time and is exactly as ordered (Putnam & Mumby, 2013). Without proper communication among them, no one would know what to do and at what point.
Fayol came up with the Classical Management theory that focused on the management operations that ensure effectiveness and efficiency. The theory suggests that in an organization’s setup, it should be clear about who is the manager in charge and the role of each employee. The hierarchical order ensures a smooth flow of communication between the management and the employees and thus increases productivity (Putnam & Mumby, 2013). However, Fayol’s theory was faced with challenges in organizational communication as hierarchies promote top-down communication. For instance, theory X advocates for micro-managing workers and this means that communication only comes from the top level of management and heads down to the employees (Porush, 2018). The machine metaphor states that there must be coordination between parts and each part must participate.
Weber developed his ideas on bureaucracy (Mumby, 2012). He believed that an ideal organization should be organized in a hierarchical order just like Fayol’s idea. According to him, authority in an organization should be centralized and labor is divided. With this kind of setup, it is easy to predict the progress of the organization. His bureaucracy idea enhances organizational communication as it requires an organization to have a well-set communication platform (Holm, 2020). Messages can be delivered to the central point and be disbursed to other workers and managers. Also, the central authority can send messages to the workers individually, per department, or the entire company. Having a central point where communication is directed or come from, ensures efficiency.
Haken, H., Karlqvist, A., & Svedin, U. (2012). The machine as metaphor and tool. Springer Science & Business Media.
Holm, S. (2020). The machine metaphor in science and science communication. Philosophical Perspectives on the Engineering Approach in Biology, 186-199. https://doi.org/10.4324/9781351212243-13
Mumby, D. K. (2012). Organizational communication: A critical approach. SAGE.
Porush, D. (2018). The metaphor of the machine. The Soft Machine, 1-213. https://doi.org/10.4324/9781351129688-1
Putnam, L. L., & Mumby, D. K. (2013). The SAGE handbook of organizational communication: Advances in theory, research, and methods. SAGE Publications.