While browsing the Actionable Sense Wiki (see right hand side) I came across this statement of mine, that I scribbled down some weeks ago:
Organisations are clusters of relationships between people. |
The invididual and the network are the relevant economic units, not the organisation. |
Value is in the relationships, organisations are transactions along those relations.

The first statement puts people and their relations in the spotlight, thus including informal structures in orgs, not just the formal ones.
The second includes all stake holders in any situation from the get-go not just share holders.
The third brings into view that the prime goal of organisations is value creation, not it’s own continuity.
The sum total accepts every organisation as a temporary phenomenon, created and dismantled to fit value creating endeavours by networked individuals. Would this be called something like the ‘Open Space Organisation’?
Putting this into an image you would get something like these. What happens when an organisation is first founded? Is it individuals joining (their networks) together, or is it a box to be filled with employees?

Organisations as a clustering of relationships between people

Organisations as templates to be pseudo-randomly filled with people

12 reactions on “How We Might View Organisations

  1. Ton:
    That might be something like the Open Space Organization…
    Have a look at Michael Herman’s ideas of the Inviting Organization as well at http://www.globalchicago.net
    What the Inviting Organization does for me is that it starts with the intrinsic motivations for people to aggregate into structures. The results look something like what you’ve drawn, but the origins, the role of the founder, you might say, all come back to an invitation.
    In these kinds of organizations where structures evolve and dissolve as they are needed, the anchor for me is the invitation that is issued. We gather around it, work with each other and then go our seperate ways when it’s over…issueing new invitations all along the way.
    I’ll post this at Parking Lot for more discussion too.

  2. Inspiring observations. I read an article recently that had similar type diagrams, and indicated that the network connected behind the individual is usually hidden behind a veil, or disregarded entirely.
    I notice there are similarities between the lower hierarchical diagrams and 19th & early 20th century infantry configurations, which were a very effective mechanism to get yourself killed.
    The network-as-organization has a more organic structure, more like molecular structure.
    John Peters and other writers on corporate behaviour suggested that need to in a speeded up world to make associations loose, able to be created and collapse on demand. Those models include assumptions about how intellectual capital is owned/maintanined by a core “head” group, however. I wonder how “accumulated value” is to be properly modeled. Any thoughts on this?
    I’m doubting that Peter’s “super-loose” version of capitalism cant be physically represented to parallel the molecular strucure you show. WHich makes me doubt his and others’ assumptions will persist, will be able survive the rigors of speeded up change.

  3. Organizations are collections of people

    Ton Zylstra poses an interesting question in his Ton’s Interdependent Thoughts: How We Might View Organisations: What happens when an organisation is first founded? Is it individuals joining (their networks) together, or is it a box to be filled with…

  4. Yup. That was you!
    Well thanks for those diags, made me think more, helped lead me to model where the business is nothing BUT a network of independent consultants, and it is promoted as such. Such is Oobik!
    I took the liberty of adding the link to your company John. Best, Ton

  5. One of my favourite exercises to do with groups looking at their structure is to have them haul out the org chart, grab a transparency and a pen and ask them how things really get done in the organization. We pick a project and follow the basic steps for how it got approved, what made it work, what critical interventions saved it. In short, we map the pathway to success that the project took in th eorganization and then we lift the transparency away from the page and BINGO! you have a mess. Or more precisely a network. And it starts looking alot like the diagrams you have been drawing because that is how people really relate to each other at work.

  6. Organisations as clusters

    Ton Zijlstra neatly summarises in words and diagrams How We Might View Organisations as individuals and networks… not just people slotted into structures. “Organisations are clusters of relationships between people. | The individual and the network a…

  7. Hmm. You’re ignoring the fact that organizations are self-perpetuating emergent phenomena in their own right, and resist their own dismantling.
    In other words, the primary pupose of most organizations *is* their own continuity, because all the other organizations have already been dismantled and assimilated into the survivors.

  8. Michael – having trouble with your point.
    Orgs are hard to dismantle – no argument there. But orgs as resistent or having a primary purpose? I see organizations as being what we make of them, they are non existent things that we ascribe attributes to.
    An org’s charter may make it hard to re-tool, but I think you’re saying the organization leaves an imprint on all that sail in her, in the same way that schools make us take on a certain shape that may, for instance, be inimical to learning or being able to redefine schooling.
    I think the point is people have a real stake in a structure, only in so long as they are served by it…

  9. hello ton, a better version of InvitingOrganizationEmerges is here.
    your lines around the people remind me of what i heard from mark pixley in hong kong once. i asked, unencumbered by any real historical memory, how it was that little tiny taiwan could talk so tough to big fat china. he began… “well, a country’s only a country because we say it’s a country.”
    all in the story… org can be real or dissolve. before the network, there is the story, and before the story, the tellers. the people as you say. and then the relationships as told by them. then the org and network.
    my two cents. maybe three.

  10. On Networked and Traditional Views of Organisations

      Chris Messina in his posting I Represent Me, triggered by Boris Mann, talks about how he feels in relation to organizations and groups he is part of: I don’t represent my employer, who I choose to work for represents me. (picture …

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