Magazine article Personnel

Keeping the Jungle out of the M.B.A. Classrooms

Magazine article Personnel

Keeping the Jungle out of the M.B.A. Classrooms

Article excerpt

Keeping the Jungle out of M.B.A. Classrooms

Fostering a cooperative mentality in classrooms is one way to help eliminate the divisive in-house intrigues that keep many firms from competing successfully in the global market. A serious movement is taking shape in U.S. industry. Its purpose is to improve the quality of our products without increasing their cost so that we can compete more effectively in the international marketplace. Thus far corporations have spent millions of dollars on consultants and training. Vice presidents of quality management have been appointed and quality departments have been staffed. Despite the seriousness of the intentions, however, the results of most efforts have proved disappointing. One increasingly apparent reason for this failure, for which academia must take partial blame, is internal competition and conflict that frustrate the generation of a participative environment.

As a means of discovering and developing potential, competition obviously has great value. In terms of our economy, competition among companies and with other countries, encouraged by the free enterprise system, has been the driving force behind our impressive economic development during the past 300 years. But this level of competition is not the subject at hand. Rather, it is the divisive in-house competition and conflict that produce back-stabbing and defensiveness and stifle productivity.

One of the many noteworthy comments attributed to Peter Drucker is that there is more competition within corporations than between them, and that such internal competition is often waged far less ethically than external competition. Lee Iacocca reinforces this claim in his autobiography. He says that he was shocked when he arrived at Chrysler and found a "cluster of little duchies" at the top level of management, "thirty-five vice presidents each controlling his own turf' with minimal communication and almost no coordination. In his book, Management in Small Doses, Russell Ackoff says that "it is commonplace for parts of a corporation to be at war amongst themselves, or in competition."

A Matter of Timing

The whys and wherefores of our current competitive, win-lose work culture have been receiving serious attention from academia for the past 100 years. Educators such as Oliver Sheldon, Mary Follet, Elton Mayo, and Frederick Herzberg have worked to make industrialists understand the negative aspects of this culture and help develop and introduce positive changes.

Their criticism and suggestions, however, have generally been ignored. Our traditional adversarial approach has managed for decades to produce relatively good results and, therefore, has been difficult to fault. Only within the last 20 years or so, as new economic powers espousing a different management philosophy have begun cutting heavily into our markets, have our industrial leaders started to suspect that something might be wrong. Their suspicions have generated a growing number of attempts to emulate the cooperation-advocating Japanese, French, and Swedes.

Academicians have continued to contribute by providing case studies; refining theory, tools, and techniques; and providing new insights and ideas. But the educational sector can and should do more. For one thing, it should begin practicing what it preaches in the classroom.

It is difficult to reorient the thinking of managers who have fought their way up though the ranks and have been managing the same way for 35 years. Newer managers tend to be less cynical, less defensive, more willing to try something new. These are the people who are going to lead the way in the next 10 to 20 years. These are also the people now sitting in M.B.A. classrooms reading Ouchi, Peters, Naisbitt, and Pinchot and discussing the corporate world's growing emphasis on discouraging in-house competition, encouraging teamwork, pushing decision-making down the line, and getting employees more involved in shaping their work environment. …

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