Self-awareness. Can an organization posses it? Collectively I mean. Or is it something that only individuals within the structures of an organization can have? Is an organization a living, breathing entity made up of components (people), capable of self-awareness? Is there somehow a way to find the collective consciousness of an organization? What about instincts? Can an organization have instincts that are identifiable at its core? Principles that guide its behaviors without any (or much anyway) thought? The way organizational studies experts such as Gareth Morgan and Jim Collins write about organizations would indicate that they think so.
Morgan uses (among others) the metaphor of “organism”1 to better understand how an organization functions so if an organism can be self-aware or have instincts then so must an organization. Collins repeatedly refers to organizations as possessing traits that would normally be reserved for an individual. Characteristics like the ability to determine the things that it “can be the best in the world at (and, equally important, what [it] cannot be the best on the world at)” and “[w]hat [it is] deeply passionate about”2 require a measure of self-awareness and understanding of core instincts usually reserved for a highly developed consciousness. Or are these really the characteristics of the individuals running the organizations? This is where I become a bit conflicted.
Are organizations and the people “in charge” of the organizations one in the same? Do the characteristics of the organization simply emanate from the people who run them? If so, how far down the food-chain do we look to find the genesis of these characteristics? I guess underneath all of these angst-filled questions is one very simple one… “who gets to decide?” and why? At the end of the day, try as we might to idealize effective (GREAT) organizations as being in possession of some really GREAT characteristics, it seems to me that it still comes down to the people within the organizations having them. An organization can’t be passionate about anything! But the people within an organization can. An organization can’t articulate what it is really good or really bad at but the people within it can. An organization can’t resolve itself to push diligently on the flywheel and avoid the doom loop3 but the individual people can. it always comes back to people. An organization can’t be great unless its people are great.
So, if it’s important to me that my organization move from good to great, I must be willing to move from good to great myself. In so doing, perhaps, I will stimulate some others to be great too. And in time, the organization, being reflective of its individual parts, will naturally become great and persist. It’s ALWAYS about the people.
- Gareth Morgan. Images of Organization (London: Sage, 2006.)
- Jim Collins. Good to Great (New York: Harper Collins, 2001) Kindle. Loc. 1670.
- Ibid. Loc. 2746.