Organizational Learning Approaches and Metaphors


The theory of organizational metaphors developed by Morgan states that there is no single or universal model or form of governance. Moreover, those approaches that were successful and relied on the accumulated experience of managers might become obsolete or disregard the requirements of a reorganized team or setting (Catino, 2013). The task of a manager is to be able to maneuver quickly in the changing environment and adapt to it using the appropriate management tools. The purpose of this paper is to review two different approaches to organizational learning and to provide insights into the way they influence company learning at my workplace.

Organization as Machine or Organism

Morgan’s metaphor of the organization as a machine is rather rigid and routinized. The core of this concept is that a company has certain control systems and a bureaucratic organization, which ensures that the processes are managed in a strict manner (Kirwan, 2013). This approach implies repetitive work that is furnished by skilled professionals; however, they are replaceable by employees with the same qualification.

In our educational institution, the efficiency of this approach was revealed in the fact that organizational learning contributed to enhanced organizational memory (Kirwan, 2013). At the same time, learning did not only help the current workforce, but it also affected the future employees through accumulated knowledge and established norms. In this approach, our organization received single-loop learning in which it corrected the mistakes in the work and continued operating with the same rules (Jex & Britt, 2014). This allowed employees to contribute to the knowledge base without changing the basic course of the company’s work. Nevertheless, in terms of the nature of our company, there were a number of specific disadvantages, which encouraged the leadership to change the mode of work. For instance, this concept presupposed a mechanistic view of the company management, and significant adjustments were perceived by workers as a transition to a completely new mode of work, which resulted in the increased stress levels and resistance to change (Kayes, 2015).

The concept of organization as an organism differs from the first approach in that it is less formalized. It assumes the absence of an ideal way to build and manage a company while the most effective way of organizational learning is to form information flows between systems and their environment. The most significant aspect of this metaphor is the idea that it is necessary to outline individual, team, and organizational needs so that technical and social subsystems are optimized jointly (Perkins & Arvinen-Muondo, 2013). From the point of view of our company, alterations occur in response to situational changes; that is, they are not initiated by the organization. The employees comprehend the need for change, and this motivates them to adapt. Therefore, this approach assumes that organizational learning is not forced, but it proceeds in connection with the objective necessity, and management provides as much assistance as required for the transformations to progress successfully and feasibly (Kaynak, Fulmer, & Keys, 2013). Nonetheless, this approach is not always appropriate due to the fact that employees do not always set organizational goals prior to their personal needs or requirements.


Thus, it can be concluded that Morgan’s theory of metaphors reveals that managers and leaders should operate on different approaches. However, the most crucial aspect is the need to choose a metaphor depending on the characteristics of a company, employees, and the current situation. Each model has both pros and cons, as well as limitations. For the same organizational situation, a manager can utilize different tools and models, and each of them will have advantages over the other approaches. Consequently, it can be assumed that organizational learning can proceed in many ways by means of which the firm will create, complement, and organize its knowledge around the specific actions and corporate culture.


Catino, M. (2013). Organizational myopia. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Jex, S., & Britt, T. (2014). Organizational psychology. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.

Kayes, C. (2015). Organizational resilience. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Kaynak, E., Fulmer, R., & Keys, B. (2013). Executive development and organizational learning for global business. New York, NY: Routledge.

Kirwan, C. (2013). Making sense of organizational learning. Farnham, UK: Gower Publishing.

Perkins, S., & Arvinen-Muondo, R. (2013). Organizational behaviour. London, UK: Kogan Page Publishers.