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In 1980, the authors of the article “Structure is not Organization” introduced a new framework for organizational thought, which is very useful both in assessing the causes of organizational malaise and in formulating programs for improvement.

The authors assert that productive organizational change is really an effective relationship between seven interrelated organizational elements. This is not unlike the process necessary for paradigm change. The central idea is that organizational effectiveness stems from the interaction of these factors and the framework for organizational change, graphically depicted in the exhibit Organizational Models Framework, suggests several important ideas.

  • A multiplicity of factors influence an organization’s ability to change and its proper mode of change.
  • The elements are interconnected making it is difficult, if not impossible, to make significant progress in one area without addressing the other areas as well. Notions of organizational change that ignore this interconnectedness are dangerous.
  • Finally, the shape of the diagram significantly indicates no starting point or implied hierarchy. A priori, it isn’t obvious which of the seven elements will be the driving force in change.

The need for coherence among the organizational elements can be demonstrated through examination of the traditional model that has been in use for over forty years. Aristotle has suggested that any body of knowledge requires a fundamental assumption that can be neither proved nor disproved. Yet the fundamental assumption and succeeding building block assumption create the boundaries of how system problems are to be addressed. Starting from the Superordinate Goals or fundamental assumption of the traditional model we find substantive consistency.

The ultimate assumption of traditional models of services to people with atypical behaviors is that there is a pathology; either physical or psychological, affecting the person with problems in living. It follows therefore, that behavior that is caused by genes, chemical imbalance, disease or abnormal drives is very difficult to address since the person suffering from these abnormalities is not responsible for the behavior that these pathologies cause. This is particularly so, since the pathology, is unidentifiable and unadressable. The only breach in this traditional model has been the behavioral theory in which the fundamental assumption is that the person learns the behavior through reinforcement from the environment, and that therefore we must control the environment, in order to change the behavior. The responsibility in both cases, lies outside the person in traditional constructs, either with the environment or the pathology.

It follows therefore, that since the people with problems in living are not responsible, someone else must be. Logic follows two courses here: first, someone must be blamed and someone must be in control. Pathology, eliminates the personal fault, although of course, it raises questions about “bad genes”; while the behavioral approach implicates the people in the environment. This implication is modified and diffused, by complexity, but some elements continue to exist. However, the question of correction demands that someone other than the person with problems in living take control. From the perspective of pathology, there is sufficient fear of the person with problems in living, that we violate the constitution of the United States and allow predictive incarceration for “the person’s own good”. Behavioral approaches are less intrusive although they seek to control the antecedents and consequences of all behaviors in order to “train” the person with problems in living to reduce or eliminate the problems1.

As a result of the lack of locus of control or personal responsibility which is assumed because of the fundamental assumption, social policy is usually developed primarily around the need to protect society; rather the primacy of helping people with problems in living. This places high value on control, which of course, sets in motion a great deal of resistance, which is often used to support the need for control. The unique value of the mental health system, for example, is the ability to control behavior either through medication or through removal into restrictive settings. The very construct of restrictive settings implies the need to control people with atypical behaviors. The word compliance is an important word in mental health; it means to conform, obey or submit. The failure to conform, obey or submit is called resistance. Since “patients” often resist, the implementation of services is a complex, and often “dangerous” process.

The staff, presumably dealing with such peril and complexity, obviously needs to be highly trained and credentialed. Certainly, no layperson could be expected to take on such a highly enigmatic task of dealing with a person who is not in control of his own behavior. Credentialing inevitably leads to status, since some credentials are obviously better than others. Status, of course, leads to hierarchy.

The credentials needed are biomedical or psychodynamic for these are the technological skills needed. The style is based on the credentialed expertise and driven by the expert’s ability to make appropriate decisions concerning the person’s life. “Resistance” is rarely seen as a difference of opinion, but is identified as part of the pathology. It is the responsibility of the expert to make “good” decisions for the “patient” and to act “for the patient’s own good”, since the patient is unable to act for him or herself.

“Treatment” usually requires a program or place with “structure”, meaning restrictions that “control” the atypical behaviors, rather than focus on a specific means of intervention to accomplish specific ends. The only specific intervention is the use of drugs to “control the symptoms” of the disease. Here the focus is on the “dead man” test; meaning the more the person acts like a “dead man”, the better behaved they are. Otherwise, the focus is on process. In fact, the method of determining the success of an individual practitioner or organization has traditionally been based entirely on the number of services rendered rather than the outcomes of the rendering.

The presence of a substantial hierarchy leads inevitably to a command environment in which subordinates are to carry out processes precisely and control of the process is seen as a vital responsibility of accountability management. Rarely is outcome of the process reviewed. In fact, continued failure merely substantiates the degree of difficulty.

Programs and places are “factory” like: clients are sent there to be fixed. Thus organizations tend to be centralized and the hierarchy is quite high or vertical.

The selection, or evolution, of the elemental functions described for the traditional organization or system follow inevitably from the fundamental assumption and are very difficult, if not impossible, to change in isolation. Empowerment of the family, for example, conflicts substantively with the style of the traditional organization and threatens the hierarchy and credentials. If these are threatened, what does it say about the skills and superordinate goals? It is the attempt to incorporate family choice into the system, while still maintaining the other elements in tact, which creates the tension in the traditional system.

While transitional constructs such as outcome production, personal responsibility, valued settings and the like have been discussed in the literature for some time, they continue to fail in implementation and staff who push them too hard on these issues are often seen as “trouble makers”. One of the system maintenance tactics is to suggest that one need not decide either/or, but can combine strategies. This, of course, is possible only when the basic strategies are not self-negating. It is difficult to suggest that choice on the one hand and control on the other can be compatible.

If we are truly to embrace these new constructs, we will need to seek coherence across the organizational network. The transformational model will require that all organizational elements be reviewed for coherence. “The framework…suggests the wisdom of taking seriously the variables in organizing that have been considered soft, informal, or beneath the purview of top management interest” [Waterman, Peters & Phillips, 1980].

At the very least the framework is a checklist that can lead us into new terrain in our efforts to understand how organizations and organizational systems really operate or to design a truly comprehensive change.

“At its most powerful and complex, the framework forces us to concentrate on interactions and fit. The real energy required to redirect [a system] comes when all the variables in the model are aligned” [Waterman, Peters & Phillips].

Based on the logic of the initial assumptions, it should not be a surprise that organizational models designed to manage atypical behavior have all failed over the last forty years. In 1993, the National Association of Mental Health and the Federation of Families for Children’s Mental Health cited five national studies2 dating from 1969, which documented this failure. In 1989, the National Governor’s Association declared that what is needed is a commitment to translate existing knowledge “into an effective system to assist these children and their families in a comprehensive manner”.

In 1994, the U.S. Department of Education and Rehabilitative Services, The Office of Special Education Programs released a National Agenda For Achieving Better Results for Children and Youth with Serious Emotional Disturbance which states “Effectively serving and meeting the needs of children and youth with serious emotional disturbance [SED] and their families is a national concern.” Reiterating the indicators of All Systems Failure, they point to lower academic outcomes and graduation rates, higher absenteeism, dropout rates, encounters with the Juvenile Justice System, and a higher placement in restrictive settings as symptomatic of the failure.

The National Agenda identifies seven “Target” issues:

  • Expand positive learning opportunities and results.
  • Strengthen school and community capacity
  • Value and address diversity
  • Collaborate with families
  • Promote appropriate assessment
  • Provide ongoing skill development and support
  • Create comprehensive and collaborative systems

While these are certainly positive statements, they do little to help schools organize themselves and other child serving agencies to effectively meet the targets. “The poor outcomes achieved by students with serious emotional disturbance cannot be successfully addressed by focusing on these students alone. Their poor success rates and frequent removal from mainstream classes and regular schools reflect school and community factors, as well as the nature of their emotional needs. Often student behavior escalates out of control and academic failure occurs before the schools intervene. Intervention is often limited to external control, with little attention given to internal development of self-control, self-management, self-advocacy, and conflict resolution skills.”

Families represent a child’s most intimate support system and are frequently a key factor in successfully addressing the needs of the child. Yet families, based on the traditional logic, are more often viewed as the problem, than the solution. If we expect to develop an educational system that can effectively address the issues of children with problems in living, we will need to reorganize not just our systems, but our thinking about how to help the family help the child. This may require that we teach parents as well as students.

Needless to say the fundamental assumption of a transformational cognitive behavior model is quite different and its extrapolation leads us to quite different conclusions. The basic tenet is that cognition controls behavior – therefore what a person thinks is critical. Such a fundamental assumption leads one to examine why people think what they think, and most observers will identify that thought development is an interactive process between an autonomous agent and a complex and stimulating environment. Since much stimuli is ambiguous, the repeated experiences can accumulate an infinite number of beliefs that are congregated into belief systems that develop attitudes and the “personality” which is apparent to the observer. From such logical extrapolations, one can conclude that the person with problems in living is “just like everyone else”, with similar goals and desires, although their expectations may be shaped differently because of the “inner logic” of largely unconscious processors based on contexts built thorough personal interpretation of unique experiences.

Our own logic then leads us to ask whether the person is “in charge” of their own behavior, and more importantly perhaps, can they change either the inner logic or behavior? The answer to these questions appears clearly to be ‘YES’. It is based upon these assumptions that choice, outcome expectations, personal dignity, self-determination and equally important constructs so prevalent in human services make sense. Such constructs are not coherent with pathological beliefs. It makes no sense at all to allow a person who is unable to think rationally to make significant decisions about their own lives. This is particularly true when we examine the track record. However, it makes eminent sense if we believe that the person is thinking rationally, but that the inner logic is flawed and that they can, with our help, change it3 .

From this new fundamental assumption, the organizational system can begin to address the mission, which should be focused on improving outcomes for people with problems in living. However, “Established presuppositions tend to become unconscious. Whatever we believe with absolute certainty we tend to take for granted. ….We lose sight of the fact that alternatives to our stable presuppositions can be entertained” [Baar – 1988].

Those “experts” most entrenched in the traditional constructs will be literally unable to consciously think consistently of the alternatives to their own, stable presuppositions.

“Kuhn calls this phenomenon ‘the incommensurability of competing paradigms’. Since new paradigms are born from old ones, they ordinarily incorporate much of the vocabulary and apparatus, both conceptual and manipulative, that the traditional paradigm had previously employed. But they seldom employ these borrowed elements in quite the traditional way. Within the new paradigm, old terms, concepts and experiments fall into new relationships with the other” [Baar – 1998].

Communication across the revolutionary divide will inevitably be partial, requiring the manager desiring a transformation system to address many issues of organizational change at the same time.

Both traditional and transformational staff are looking at the world, and what they look at has not changed. But in some areas they see different things, and they seem them in different relations one to the other.

“Just because it is a transition between incommensurables, the transition between competing paradigms cannot be made a step at a time, forced by logic and natural experience. …paradigms are conceptual contexts. If one tried to make a paradigm conscious, one could only make one aspect of it conscious at any one time because of the limited capacity of consciousness. But typically paradigm-differences between two groups of scientists involves no just one, but many different aspects of the mental framework simultaneously” [Baar – 1998].

Improving outcomes thus will require new skills since we are not controlling the person but must now provide support to their personal preferences. Such improvement will also require a better understanding of the potential conflict of outcome expectations of the student, the parent, the teacher and the system. Within an outcome oriented system, we will need to find a way to have the funds follow the person with problems in living as they function in valued settings instead of being maintained in program budgets and segregated settings.

Such far ranging expectation will require substantive change in the way business is done. In order to help you think effectively about the change, we have compared the traditional model with the one to which we hope to transform. However, even as you attempt to make the change, the illusion will appear and disappear in epiphanies of the moment. The literature continues to talk about outcome, choice, valued settings, and the like as important constructs in the appropriate delivery of service. Yet despite all the rhetoric; we continue to demand compliance, ignore resistance and work in centralized “factory” settings. True transformation of helping systems will only come when social planners address the complexity of organizational form in all of its interconnectedness and the though process becomes habitual and unconscious.


Waterman, Jr., Robert H.; Peters, Thomas J.; & Phillips, Julien R., “Structure is Not Organization”, Business Horizons, June 1980.

Koyanagi, Chris & Gaines, Sam, “All Systems Failure – an Examination of the Results of Neglecting the Needs of Children with Serious Emotional Disturbance”, The National Mental Health Association and the Federation of Families for Children’s Mental Health, 1993.

“National Agenda for Achieving Better Results for Children and Youth with Serious Emotional Disturbance”, Prepared by the Chesapeake Institute of the American Institutes for Research for the U.S. Department of education Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services, 1994.

Baar, Bernard J., “A Cognitive Theory of Consciousness”, Cambridge University Press, 1988.

  1. In fairness, the approaches promoted by this site and this article, grow out of the behavioral approaches although initially as an opposition.
  2. All Systems Failure notes 1) The Joint commission on the Mental Health of Children [1969], 2) The President’s Commission on Mental Health [1978], 3) the Office of Technology Assessment [1986], 4) the Institute of Medicine [1989], 5) and the House Select Committee on Children, Youth and Families [1990].
  3. Lets be very cautious however, they may choose not to change the way they think and any attempt at forcing such a change will be met by resistance. We can, however, offer them a logical choice with which they can determine consequences and deal with them.