some of the most perplexing in organizations. Luckily
the concept of systems provides a wealth of clues
about where the problem might lay, and what might
The key distinction is between organic systems and purposive
systems. Companies are
formed to deliver a product or service,
take care of a particular customer group,
or leverage a technology. Organic systems
emerge without direction out of the interaction
of interdependent players. People just
talk, and a culture emerges. People have
lunch with who they prefer, and a friendship
network emerges. People assess each others'
strengths, and an informal influence network
always a mix of deliberate, directed structures
right along side organic, emergent structures.
The organizational chart captures how it
was intended to operate, but anyone
in the company can tell you that the real structure
is quite different. The following chart
will focus on the differences between
organic vs. purposive systems.
||Organic systems have no purpose; they are not future-oriented.
In organic systems, individuals act only in response to their
minute-to-minute circumstance. We sometimes impose an imagined
purpose to explain the long-term trajectory of organic
systems, but we have not discovered the "purpose" of the system;
we have only imposed a purpose for our comfort.
||Designed to produce products or
services, take care of a population,
or leverage some technology.
The purpose preceded the existence
of the organization.
||The environment is largely given and non-negotiable.
||The environment can be chosen to some degree;
companies can compete in distant
markets or rely on goods imported
from other economies. They
can negotiate alliances, engage
in mergers, and form supply
||Feedback from environment is immediate
and direct. It has a compelling
influence on the emergence
of the system.
||Feedback is mediated, distorted,
and delayed; employees often
unaware of how their work is
received in the marketplace. Content
of feedback is as much symbolic
as it is substantive. The system
may evolve quite oblivious
to how the environment views
them (at least for a while).
||The individual or the small working
group are the most powerful
units; networks and more elaborate units emerge
from the interaction of these basic units.
||Organizations are more heavily constructed, and constructed
at all levels: job descriptions, departments,
project teams, programs, lines of business,
divisions, or other units.
In addition, employees may
base actions on their association
with a social class,
bargaining unit, employee
group or professional
||Rich interdependence leads to a
network or web structure. Organic structures do not respect formal
boundaries; employees may be more involved with friends and
colleagues than they are with their formally designated team
||Imposed partitions within companies
and artificial boundaries
attempt to constrain
lines of communication, the
flow of authority, or the alignment
for cooperation or competition.
||Organic systems have only the present;
all the lessons of the past
and hopes for the future are
embodied in today's beliefs and choices. The history
of a species is written in the genetic code of each individual.
Likewise, the history of an organization is written into the
attitudes, beliefs, and inclinations of each employee.
||Companies construct histories through
their culture and imagine futures
through their planning efforts.
These provide the context for
present actions; often more
influential than the realities
of the present.
The purpose of this table is to facilitate
finding the friction points between
the organic side
of the company and its purposive side. For
documentation captures the directed definition
of work flow, but the informal friendship network
define another sequence or impose different
criteria for success. An enterprise-wide
data system may squeeze out all the resource
buffers for greater efficiency, but those buffers
may have been the way people established their
authority, their status, even their own self-esteem.
So complaints about the new data system may
focus on the complexity of the computer screens,
when the real issue is compromised self-definition.
Or, the strategic planning process
may try to impose objectives and establish
accountabilities, but employees may
still appeal to their private authority network
to decide "what's most important to
work on now".