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Forms of power in organisations

Let’s get cracking…

…refamiliarise yourself with the content of Chapter 5 to arm yourself for this scenario.  Particularly, have a look at pages 134-135, which described different forms of power and authority.  Then, read this article about the recent discussions over the formal status of the Great Barrier Reef.  This article also gives us an opportunity to examine the role of organisational structure, and forms of power within and outside organisations.

Summarising very briefly:

The Great Barrier Reef is an icon.  Large enough to be seen from outer space, it is home to many species of marine life.  It attracts more than 1.5 million tourists a year, and it is so significant, it has actually been declared a World Heritage Area, which means the whole world sees it as something which should be protected. 

But the Great Barrier Reef is not far from a rapidly developing coastal area, and this means that human actions affect it.  Ports nearby, such as Abbot Point, have seen increased activity over the last two decades, and they have recently been approved for expansion.  The result of this expansion is waste, which needs to be dumped somewhere.  Naturally, the companies involved would like to dump as close as possible, to avoid costs.  Governments are meant to protect people who live in the area, and therefore have rules and regulations about these things.  In this case, the government approved dumping within the area of the Great Barrier Reef reserve - about 25 kilometres from the coast. 

But that is not all.  As we’ve discussed in Chapter 3, climate change is about, and that has a devastating effect on the reef.  Pollution run-off from the mainland and continuous coastal development do their fair share to harm the reef, and major storms and floods in the area did not help.  The concerns kept mounting, so UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organisation, got involved.

UNESCO had to decide if the Great Barrier Reef should be listed as a site “in danger”, and for that they commissioned a report.  They decided not to list the reef as “in danger”, because the Australian federal government, and Queensland state government promised to reduce pollution run-off by 80% by 2025, from urban and farming sources, much to farmers’ disappointment.  The authorities also promised to restrict port development, and limit dredging and dumping of waste in the Reef vicinity.  

If these promises sound familiar, then you must have been following action groups like Get-Up, SumofUs, and, which have been campaigning for such actions.  They didn’t just settle for asking the government to protect the reef, but also went even further - to the source of funding for this project.  GetUp has set up a standard way people can contact the banks and express their views on their involvement in the funding, with the hope that public pressure will stop them from providing this funding. 

Back to UNESCO’s decision: based on the Australian authorities promise to, basically, take better care of the reef, UNESCO decided not to list it as “in danger”, but requested to be updated of the status by 2017.  UNESCO does not have formal authority over the Australian or Queensland government, but its world-wide recognised activity can make its ‘naming and shaming’ practices effective.

Back in Australia, power keeps playing.  Greenpeace was active in voicing concerns for the reef, and now that UNESCO is somewhat off their back, politicians are controlling the power damages in their own back yard.  Punitive actions, such as scrutinising their tax practices in more detail, are one suggestion.  Although all organisations should follow the law, targeting an organisation and tying them up in an audit, albeit legal, could be seen as somewhat discriminatory.  I’ll leave it up to you to decide if this is a legitimate use of power in this case, or not.  In the meantime, we have some management issues to look at.


Consider the following questions for discussion….

  1. Many organisations are involved in this issue – UNESCO, Greenpeace, the Australian federal government and Queensland government.  What sort of a structure do you think each organisation would have?  How could have their structure support their operations?
  2. What forms of power can you identify in this story?
  3. What kind of power does UNESCO have?
  4. What kind of power the individual citizen have in this case?  What about the public as a whole?