Research Paper On The London Underground Tragedy

Organizational behavior is the study of how people think, feel, and act within an organization. There are positive and negative behaviors that people exhibit within an organization. These behaviors can either lead to an organization’s success or failure. One such failure happened within the London Underground which had devastating effects. The London Underground is made up of a system of trains that move commuters around London’s underground tunnel system. The tunnels are old and have wooden escalators which feed people to and from the trains. The London Underground made a number of negative choices and fostered many negative behaviors which led to a devastating fire that killed or injured numerous people. This paper will focus on organizational effectiveness perspectives, types of power, and the sources of conflict which led to the tragic event.

Organizational Effectiveness Perspectives

Per McShane and Von Glinow organizational effectiveness is best defined as how effective an organization handles many concepts including how it fits into the external environment, how its internal systems create a successful environment for performance, learning, and how it satisfies its stakeholders. There are four organizational effectiveness perspectives that the book touches on. These include open systems perspective, organizational learning perspective, high-performance work practices perspective, and stakeholder perspective.

Open systems perspective is focused on how the organization interacts with the external environment. The outside environment supplies certain things in which the organization needs. These factors such as raw materials, work force, information, and equipment are absorbed by the organization and used to create an output. The different systems within the organization use the inputs to create different outputs. These outputs include products, services, shareholder dividends, community support, and waste. The external environment also gives feedback about the outputs. The system must take in the feedback in order to make sure it is a good fit with the external environment.

The next perspective is the organizational learning perspective, this perspective focuses on its capacity to acquire, share, use, and store valuable information. This knowledge is called intellectual capital which includes human capital, structural capital, and relationship capital. An organization acquires information by scanning environment, external learning, grafting, and experimentation. An organization shares knowledge by communication, internal learning, and information sharing. The organization uses knowledge by sensemaking, requisite skills, autonomy, and learning orientation. Then it stores information by human memory, documentation, knowledge transfer, and by systems. How effectively an organization is able to acquire, share, use and store this knowledge shows how successful the organization is.

Another perspective is the high-performance work practices perspective which focuses on improving human capital. In this perspective the improvement and growth in human capital equates to being more successful. Some work practices that help achieve this improved human capital would be employee involvement, job autonomy, competency, and rewards for performance and compensation.

The final perspective is Stakeholder perspective. This perspective focuses on the stakeholders that affect or are affected by the organizations actions and results. These stakeholders include employees, stockholders, suppliers, media, regulators, politicians, and many other people. How the organization affects these people equates to how effective they are and how productive they may be.

Connecting Organizational Effectiveness Perspectives

The London Underground in some ways has implemented some of these effectiveness perspectives and in some ways did not or could have implemented them better. When it comes to open systems effectiveness, they seemed to be able to get people in and out and they had a routine that worked for them. One key component that was missing from this perspective is in using feedback. They received feedback from 3 different commuters about the signs of a fire. If they would have managed the feedback in a more effective way, they could have stopped the fire from getting out of control.

The next perspective, the organizational learning perspective, was also a down fall. They had received information on many occasions that they did not implement. For instance, when it came to the basic training suggestions that were made by the deputy assistant chief of the London Fire Brigade. This information was not given to the right person. Therefore no one was properly trained on fire safety and the sprinkler system. The high-performance work practices perspective was also not implemented. There was no sense of job autonomy or employee involvement. In fact, they were made to keep their thoughts and ideas to themselves or there would be backlash. This was also an instance in which something could have been done that could have stopped the disaster. If the ticket taker had taken the initiative to further investigate then the fire could have been spotted earlier.

The final perspective is the stakeholder perspective. This may have been something that was implemented well on a normal basis. This is shown by how they effectively ran the trains and kept the commuters happy and on time. This day in particular the London Underground failed at this perspective as their missteps caused a situation to become exacerbated until there were deadly consequences.

Terms of Power

In an organization there is a flow of power which is used by individuals to influence others. The first power is the ability to change a person’s behavior or attitude. This is when someone uses their power to change a way something is done or how someone feels about a certain thing or situation. The second is having control over something that another finds valuable and that they want. This power may concern money or position that one individual wants and the other has and can give or take from them. The third power involves the unequal need for one another. This power is concerned with the fact that the person with power can control certain aspects of the other individual’s job such as job assignment, rewards, information, or even having the privilege of being associated with the power holder. These aspects of power are used in different ways and culminate to form different sources of power. There are many sources of power that are used in order to control or influence employees. They include legitimate power, reward power, coercive power, expert power, and referent power. Each has its own downfalls and positive aspects.

Legitimate power is where the leaders and managers have the right to ask their subordinates to do tasks because they are their bosses. Within this power employees must listen because they must fall into rank within the organization. Also, information control falls within this power. These managers and bosses have the right to give or not give information as they see fit to their subordinates. Reward power is where managers have the right to give raises, promotions, or other incentives for good behavior. They may also keep these rewards as punishment for the wrong behavior. Coercive power is the ability to punish the employees as they see fit. Expert power is power obtained by knowledge. The employee or subordinate will listen because they feel that you know what is right through experience or knowledge of the task at hand. The final power is referent power. Referent power is where one is liked or admired. They hold power because people want to be like them, identify with them, or respect them.

Within this case study the power exerted by “The Four Barons” is mainly through legitimate power and coercive power. They keep their power because people must listen to them because of the position they hold. They also hold coercive power. They do this by punishing anyone who steps out of their role. Even when they may be doing it for the right reason, they will be punished for not falling in rank. These powers were not handled correctly. This is what ultimately led to the short comings within the organization that caused the tragic event. The coercive power exemplified by the organization kept its employees powerless to improve basic situations. They feared retaliation if they did not stay within their own duties.

Sources of Conflict

Sources of Conflict can lead to many negative consequences within an organization. Some sources of conflict include incompatible goals, differentiation, interdependence, and scarce resources. Within the case study there are a couple sources of conflict that have taken place. These sources of conflict include ambiguous rules and communication problems. Ambiguous rules were an issue because there are the unspoken rules of not stepping on anyone else’s toes. You must not impose on any other person’s job or there will be retaliation. The other source of conflict is communication problems. This form of conflict was shown throughout the case study. One failure of communication happened between the London Fire Brigade and the safety inspector. If this line of communication was more direct, then something could have been done in regard to training personnel on fire safety. Another communication failure was between the director of operations suggested to the maintenance department that the paint posed a fire safety concern. This was met with a threat and a promise of retaliation. These sources of conflict should have been addressed before this tragic event happened.


The London Underground made a number of negative choices and fostered many negative behaviors which led to a devastating fire that killed or injured numerous people. This paper reviewed organizational effectiveness perspectives, types of power, and the sources of conflict which led to the tragic event. Through reformatting their ways of doing business they could have stopped the event or at least minimized the tragedy.

01 February 2021
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