What exactly is an organisation?

August 30, 2006

What is an organisation? The definitions are fascinating: Argyris describes it as

  • A plurality of parts
  • Maintaining themselves through their interrelatedness, and
  • Achieving specific objectives
  • While accomplishing 2 and 3 adapt to the external environment, thereby,
  • Maintaining their interrelated state of the parts (Argyris, 1960: 27-28)

Others suggest that organisations don’t exist at all but are social constructs (a view I happen to agree with – where, for example do you find organisations? – you don’t – you find buildings, people, tasks, uniforms etc).
Someone else once said to me that a family was like an organisation but without the capacity to think so my favourite definition of an organisation is
A family system – with the capacity to think – kinda covers all the bases doesn’t it?

3 People reacted on this

  1. A family is an organizations without the capacity to think? What does that mean?
    In our family, we have many conscious practices that help us learn and grow as a group of people, from intentional dialogue to learning conversations. We think and plan and work together and take time to be conscious of that as well. I certainly know many organizations who are more unconsciouss collectively than my family is.
    Anyway, have a look at this Google inquiry for more food for thought:

  2. What I mean by that Chris is that families are not primarily “rational” units. The conscious and unconscious forces that got to make up the relational units are primarily emotional. The evidence for that is how we form relationships in adult life – the way we are attracted to a partner who models the attributes of our parents – not because they are logically the “best” person for us etc…I’m not suggesting they are absent of rational thought but just that the primary driver is emotional (and unconscious at that).

  3. I see where you’re coming from. That’s not quite the samw as a family doesn’t have the capacity to think.
    This strikes as important, especially my neighbours in the US because of the prevalence of the call for family values to be spread far and wide. I’ve been interested in what that COULD mean, other than having those values (and capacities) defined by a narrow political interest. To me, families as thinking, learning organizations bound by love offer a practice ground and a model for a deep kind of leadership that is much needed in “more rational” structures.

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