Academic journal article Journal of Organizational Culture, Communications and Conflict

Control Systems in Medieval English Monasteries

Academic journal article Journal of Organizational Culture, Communications and Conflict

Control Systems in Medieval English Monasteries

Article excerpt


Monasteries in England in the middle ages represent some interesting problems of management and control. One of the most important issues was that of geographical dispersion which underwent significant change during this period.

This paper is organized in the following sections: the theories of strategy and control; a description of the medieval English monastery system; the changes effected by the Norman conquest in 1066; charters and cartularies as monastic records; the Rule of St Benedict; personal control in the monastery; action control in the monastery; results control in the monastery; clan control in the monastery; summary.


Organizations are purposive: they exist to pursue objectives. In order to do so they develop strategies: ways in which the resources of the organization will be generated and deployed in pursuit of the objectives. Strategies themselves are complex, and there are several theories about what strategies are, how they come about and how they are enacted.

The military model of command and control assumes that power is located at the top of the organization and that orders from above will be carried out, or, if not carried out, the non-conforming behavior will suffer serious sanctions. This model is pervasive in simplistic models of organizational behavior, such as Taylor's scientific management (Taylor, 1911). It is widely recognized that this model fails to capture the complexities of the real-life situation in modern commercial organizations: even in military settings it is unlikely to be a complete description of the reality.

Many models of strategy formulation start with the hierarchical or military model in the sense that strategy is said to be developed at the top of the organization and then it is communicated to and implemented by, lower levels. At management levels just below top management we see management actions that are very clearly aligned with strategies (in a commercial situation, for example: developing new products and new markets), gradually becoming less strategically focused, until, at the lowest levels, employees are engaged in performing tasks that are difficult to relate to strategies (such as manufacturing products or delivering goods to retail stores), even though they are essential to the successful pursuit of those strategies. Using such a model we get ideas such as the two basic organizational strategies (differentiation or cost leadership) that Porter (1980) suggests. This is intended strategy.

"There are several implicit assumptions in a hierarchical view of the strategy process: strategies are deliberate and intentional; strategies are articulated in advance of implementation; formulation is separate from implementation; strategy making is reserved for top management; and strategy equals a plan. " (Simon, 1995).

Mintzberg (1978) proposed a richer model of strategy that includes not only intended strategy, but also emergent strategy. Emergent strategy could be inferred from patterns of action, competitive position or an overall perspective as well as plan that are the summary of intended strategy.

"In this emergent, or incremental, view, strategy can emerge from all levels of the organization as individuals search for and create opportunities...Several assumptions underlie the emergent view of the strategy process: strategies are incremental and emerge over time; intended strategies are often superseded; formulation and implementation are often intertwined; strategic decisions occur throughout the organization; and strategy equals a process. " (Simon, 1995).

Management control is the

"Process by which managers influence other members of the organization to implement the organization 's strategy" (Anthony, 1988).

Given that there is a range of views about how strategy happens, it should be no surprise that there are different views about what form of control is appropriate to achieving strategy. …

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