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{Excerpt} Michael Cohen, James March, and Johan Olsen9 have developed an influential, agent-based representation of organizational decision-making processes. They submit that organizations are—at least in part and part of the time—distinguished by three general properties: (i) problematic preferences, (ii) unclear technology, and (iii) fluid participation. Citing, “Although organizations can often be viewed conveniently as vehicles for solving well-defined problems or structures within which conflict is resolved through bargaining, they also provide sets of procedures through which participants arrive at an interpretation of what they are doing and what they have done while in the process of doing it. From this point of view, an organization is a collection of choices looking for problems, issues and feelings looking for decision situations in which they might be aired, solutions looking for issues to which they might be the answer, and decision makers looking for work.” Decision opportunities characterized by problematic preferences, unclear technology, and fluid participation, viz., ambiguous stimuli, generate three possible outcomes, each driven by the energy it requires within the confines of organizational structure. These outcomes, whose meaning changes over time, are resolution, oversight, and flight. Significantly, resolution of problems as a style for making decisions is not the most common; in its place, decision making by flight or oversight is the feature. Is it any wonder then that the relatively complicated intermeshing of elements does not enable organizations to resolve problems as often as their mandates demand?


Suggested Citation

Serrat, O. (2010). Conflict in organizations. Washington, DC: Asian Development Bank.

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This article was first published by the Asian Development Bank (