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Open Theory of Organizing

Before beginning any discussion of how to change organizations, it is helpful to first clarify their essential purpose and nature. While organizations can have many different goals, there are three that stand out as most central and universal. The first goal of organization is to create order and reduce uncertainty for groups of people. The second is to increase the aggregate potential or effectiveness of groups. The third is to help a group of people compete more effectively within their environment through bounded cooperation. To summarize these three goals into one generalized objective, organizations offer a group of people advantages that they wouldn’t have alone. The classic “better together” argument.

A subsequent and less obvious question is around the true nature of organization. In other words, what IS an organization? Is it the sum of its employees? Its financials?Its assets?Its legal structure? Is organization a type of culture? Is it a kind of social mechanism or machine? Or is it just an idea? While there is no definitive answer to this question, we propose the following working definition of organization:

Human Organization: A socio-technical ecosystem that provides advantage to a group of people.

Defining organization as a socio-technical ecosystem assumes an evolutionary development process and takes into account the true complexity of organizations as well as the dualistic character of its social and functional dynamics. Organizations are fundamentally human in nature and as such exhibit complex social behavior. They are also technical in that they are made up of formalized rules, processes and structures that serve specific functions.

For over a hundred years now, beginning with the advent of organizational theories such as Scientific Management and Weber’s Bureaucracy, a highly mechanistic, technical view of organizations has dominated organizational thought, design, and management. While this may have been more relevant at a time when industrialization was the order of the day, it was never a particularly good idea to run organizations this way. The basic error lies in assuming that the technical and functional aspects of organization are more influential than socio-cultural dynamics. While in very specific conditions one might find this to be true, for the most part, the socio- part of socio-technical determines the fate of an organization. Simply put, in organizations, human behavior reigns supreme.

More to come soon…