Develop Bureaucratic, Institutional and Contextual (Cultural) Rationality About Your Operating Environment

Brad C. Anderson

Chapter VIII identified that it is through bureaucratic rationality that we reify power. In other words, to create any change in an organization, you must create new bureaucratic structures to administer that new action.

How do you gain sufficient insight into the official and unofficial bureaucratic rationality governing an organization to create bureaucratic rationalities that support the action you want? How do you assess which groups might help you, which will resist, and which ones are indifferent?

You learn this through two means: institutional and contextual (cultural) rationalities.

Developing institutional rationality

Recall institutional rationality governs what is rational within a sphere of society. For example, if you work in healthcare, you need to understand how the typical healthcare organization operates. If you work in banking, how does the average bank operate? And so on.

You gain this in part through school. When teachers train you for a profession, they will introduce you to that profession’s institutional rationality. On-the-job experience will then supplement that training. Years working in a sphere of society gives you insight into how it operates.

Developing contextual (cultural) rationality

Understanding the rationality of a specific sphere of society, however, is insufficient because each organization has its unique characteristics. Each organization structures itself slightly differently from others in the industry.

Additionally, each organization has different people who have unique strengths, limitations, and goals. Understanding those unique characteristics requires contextual (cultural) rationality. We gain contextual understanding through experience working with that specific company.

Some people may find it disappointing that a critical component of gaining these insights is work experience.  Gaining experience takes time. The problems we face, however, are happening now. Though there is no substitute for experience, there are things you can do to learn from experience faster. Later chapters discuss this in detail.


Key Takeaways

  • Develop your bureaucratic rationality by improving your institutional rationality
    • Job training
    • Work experience in an industry
  • Develop your bureaucratic rationality by improving your contextual (cultural) rationality
    • Work experience with a specific organization