Human beings are sociable animals. Even our Neanderthal ancestors gathered in caves and pooled their resources to hunt big game. It is a policy that has proved extremely successful and is in widespread use today. For most of us, our weekdays revolve around commuting to an organization and spending our time there collaborating with our fellows. Even in our leisure time, we congregate around team sports or churches or other community groups.
So the organization is really important to us. Indeed, if it was not for organized work, project management would probably never have become the respected profession it is today. But what is an organization? Trying to tie down what it is has prompted author Gareth Morgen to write a book entitled “Images of Organization” where he presents a series of metaphors that offer interesting perspectives.
The first is “Organizations as Machines”. This should trigger memories from your PMP® training. Remember Douglas McGregor's, Theory X? Well the machine metaphor suits the Theory X manager well. If you view the organization as a machine, then the people working there are components and should be treated as such. This type of thinking led to Frederick Wilmslow Taylor’s “Scientific Management”. Every task is clearly defined and the organization of work is taken totally out of the hands of workers. Unfortunately, this sort of thinking leads to dull, repetitive work and a very unhappy workforce.
A more enlightened perspective is offered by considering “Organizations as Organisms”. The idea here is that people, “like biological organisms, operate most effectively only when their needs are satisfied” (p.36). Again, the PMPs® among you will be reminded of Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. So, paying your workers adequately will not guarantee their best efforts; they need to have job security, a sense of belonging and a feeling of achievement and purpose.
At a higher level, this perception of an organization as an organism means that it needs to adapt to its environment. Interestingly, the “internal regulatory mechanisms of a system must be as diverse as the environment with which it is trying to deal” (p.41). In other words, the organization must be structured to suit the environment, not vice-versa.
Another, interesting way of looking at organizations is to consider them as brains or computers. After all, they are communications systems and decision-making systems. Just like computer networks and Cloud Computing mean that computer intelligence can be distributed, the brain metaphor also hints that the organization can be distributed. If anyone, anywhere in the world can tap into the corporate information systems, they can work from remote offices, or even from home. An advantage of this sort of organization is that, if one part is damaged (though war or natural disaster), the rest can continue and, eventually, take over the damaged part’s function.
A big concern of organizations is their culture. The word culture derives from cultivation and this helps to explain the Japanese work ethic. In early Japanese society, the peasant farmers grew rice. This is hard work and benefits from close cooperation among the farmers. However, these farmers needed protection from robbers and this was provided by the Samurai in exchange for food. Thus a culture of inter-dependence sprang up. For PMPs®, corporate culture is part of the Enterprise Environmental Factors.
Looking at “Organizations as Cultures” encourages us to explore the way organizations behave in a similar way to how individuals behave. Subconsciously, the organization tends to take on the values and norms of the founders of that organization. They in turn reflect the societies they came from. So, if the Japanese open a factory in Ireland, it will reflect Japanese values. However, as time goes by, the factory will slowly start to include local, Irish approaches. Just like a tree grows towards the light, so will an organization adapt to its environment.
Project managers often bemoan the political struggles that add so much complexity to their work. So it is not surprising that you can look at “Organizations as Political Systems”. As Morgen explains: “the idea of politics stems from the view that, where interests are divergent, society should provide a means of allowing individuals to reconcile their differences through consultation and negotiation” (p.154). Recalling Project Human Resource Management from our PMP® training, we should remember the different styles project managers can adopt and the group decision-making techniques. Thus organizations can become autocratic, bureaucratic, technocratic or democratic and often represent a mix of types.
Morgen’s final analogy – “Organizations as Flux and Transformation” – draws on chaos theory to bring some words of comfort to those of us who feel that our organizations make no sense at all. Large, modern organizations are extremely complicated and the internal structures seem by turns ordered and chaotic. However “despite all the unpredictability, coherent order always emerges out of the randomness and surface chaos” (p.262).
Velopi’s project management training courses cover organization structure, mainly in terms of projectized, matrix and functional organizations. If this area is intriguing for you, you might consider one of our project management certification courses that are held in Dublin, Cork, Limerick and Galway. Find out more by visiting our training page or by contacting us directly.
By Velopi Seamus Collins