Whirling paradoxes: the management of metropolitan public organizations


  • Hernandez Solange


  • Metropolitan organization
  • European case studies
  • Paradox management
  • Strategic intention
  • Strategic implementation
  • Management tools

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Our work is about local and public organizations. More precisely, we are interested in metropolitan organizations. These are public establishments with metropolitan strategic responsibilities such as the development and management of an institutionalized territory. Thence, our metropolitan public organisations are also recognized authorities. We present them as complex organizations, evolving in complex environments. The discussion is oriented towards the paradoxical nature of these organizations. A paradox implies the presence of contradictory and mutually exclusive elements, which operate concurrently (Cameron, Quinn, 1988). It corresponds to a situation where something is the actor and the arena of its action at the same time (Barel, 1989). All paradoxes are a consequence of contradictions and all create situations where a choice is forbidden 1. In addition, paradoxes have a relativist nature, an interactive dimension and they follow a dialectic rule (Seltzner, 1986, Ford, Backoff, 1988). Paradoxes suffuse the lives of metropolitan organizations. For instance, they lack complete authority to manage their territory, that is, they must exercise their attributions and legal competencies without the means of control and coercion on their stakeholders. The hardships of choice are such that: they do not choose the territory to manage, their competencies, or their status. While an organization can delimitate strategic intentions, their implementation is not a legal obligation and, above all, it depends significantly on stakeholders and its close environment. In brief, metropolitan organizations have some decisional and organizational capacities, but they are intrinsically dependant and strongly constrained by their environment. As a consequence, the metropolitan management is set at the crossroad of context and strategic intent, or of determinism and voluntarism. However, metropolitan organizations can resolve the paradoxes of their initial situation, thanks to a paradoxical management style. Thus, our aim is to explore the particular case of public organizations with two intentions. First, we want to demonstrate that these organizations experience a situation of paradoxical management. Also, we want to grasp what are the management tools of these organizations. Understanding the modalities of the management of paradoxes is our second goal.

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