Ambiguity Theory - Explained
What is the Ambiguity Theory?
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What is Ambiguity Theory?
Ambiguity theory assumes that turbulence and unpredictability are dominant features of organizations.That is, the organization is marked by uncertainty and unpredictability.
The rational model is undermined by ambiguity, since it is so heavily dependent on the availability of information about relationships between inputs and outputs between means and ends.
These theories assume that organizational objectives are problematic and that institutions experience difficulty in ordering their priorities.
The major contribution of the ambiguity model is that it uncouples problems and choices.
The notion of decision-making as a rational process for finding solutions to problems is supplanted by an uneasy mix of problems, solutions and participants from which decisions may eventually emerge.
Decision-making occurs within formal and informal settings where participation is fluid. (Bush, 2003):
Sub-units are portrayed as relatively autonomous groups, which are connected only loosely with one another and with the institution itself.
A well-known ambiguity-based approach is the garbage can model of Cohen and March (1986).
“In the garbage can model, there is no clear distinction between means and ends, no articulation of organizational goals, no evaluation of alternatives in relation to organizational goals and no selection of the best means” (Levacic, 1995, p. 82).
What are the Characteristics of Ambiguity Models?
Ambiguity models have the following major features:
- There is a lack of clarity about the goals of the organization. The organization appears to operate on a variety of inconsistent and ill-defined preferences or changing ideas. Aims become clear only through the behaviour of members of the organization (Cohen & March, 1986):
- Ambiguity models assume that organizations have a problematic technology in that their processes are not properly understood.
- Ambiguity theorists argue that organizations are characterized by fragmentation.
- Links between the groups are more tenuous and unpredictab le. Weick (1976) uses the term “loose coupling” to describe relationships between sub-units, which are characterized by impermanence, dissolvability, and tacitness .
- Within ambiguity models, organizational structure is regarded as problematic. There is an overlap of rights and responsibilities, and the effective power of each element within the structure varies with the issue and according to the level of participation of committee members.
- Ambiguity models tend to be particularly appropriate for professional client-serving organizations.
- Ambiguity theorists emphasize that there is fluid participation in the management of organizations.
- A further source of ambiguity is provided by the signals emanating from the organization's environment. The uncertainty arising from the external context adds to the ambiguity of the decision-making process within the institution.
- Ambiguity theorists emphasize the prevalence of unplanned decisions. The lack of agreed goals means that decisions have no clear focus. Problems, solutions and participants interact and choices somehow emerge from the confusion.
- Ambiguity models stress the advantages of decentralization. Weick (1976) argues that devolution enables organizations to survive while particular subunits are threatened (Bush, 2003):