Understanding an organisation can be really challenging because it can seem very difficult to orient yourself to the organisation and really make sense of what is happening in it. Every organisation embodies visible and explicit characteristics, and also less visible and implicit characteristics. When attempting to understand an organisation, the characteristics that are usually concentrated on are those that are more visible and explicit, usually because they are easier to identify and work with objectively and analytically. So the usual way to understand an organisation is to work with these more visible and explicit characteristics, to monitor them through various reporting systems, to survey them through employee engagement surveys and to try and fix them when they don’t appear to be working in the way that they should be.
Working with these more visible and explicit characteristics tends to result in a view of an organisation as a machine where some raw materials are fed in to the input and the output is a product, service or experience. We can hear this in the language that people often use to describe their organisations such as ‘running like a well-oiled machine’, where ‘everything runs like clockwork’ and where some individuals may simply view themselves as ‘just another cog’. This may be a useful way to view some simple business processes but in complex organisational environments, we more frequently hear language like ‘there’s been a communication breakdown’, which has ‘thrown a spanner in the works’ and that we need to ‘get down to the nuts and bolts’ in order to fix it.
The fundamental reason that so many organisations do encounter communication breakdowns and situations where everything grinds to a halt is often because of this perception of the organisation as a machine. Although an organisation may appear to have machine-like characteristics, resembling a variety of components connected to each other, an organisation is actually a far more organic structure. Instead of viewing an organisation as a static machine-like object, it is far more effective to view it as a dynamic organism, which emerges, exists and evolves as a function of the connections that people collectively make between their inner and outer worlds.
This dynamic organism, this dynamic process, is a continual feedforward – feedback loop between where the organisation is just now, and where it has the potential to be in the future. At a more organic level, the fundamental function of most organisations is to connect people to their individual future. Everybody in an organisation is working towards some future outcome and the conventional way to do this is often a series of mechanistic step-by-step procedures where you hope that everything will undoubtedly go to plan. In reality, however, it is actually an iterative and evolutionary process, where people are continually adapting their perspectives and beliefs, using their inner world to understand their outer world and their outer world to explain their inner world.
Working with this more organic feedforward – feedback process provides you with a far more resilient and effective way for an organisation to successfully arrive at its intended future. By constantly feeding forward the imagined futures of your collective inner worlds and feeding them back to see how your vision of the future is actually mapping out in reality, you can consistently create the organisational future of your choice.
Understanding an organisation as dynamic processes and flows, rather than just an aggregation of static objects, is also far more engaging for anyone involved in the organisation. It gives them the opportunity to enact, embody and express a more powerful sense of meaning, purpose and potential in the work that they do as they move themselves and their organisation into a successful future.