Organisational Anatomy

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“Organisational Anatomy” views organisational processes from a biological perspective, allow the development of a holistic picture, and will allow business to achieve higher performance and recognise problems by considering organisational diseases.

CHAPTER ONE
INTRODUCTION TO ORGANISATIONAL
ANATOMY


Why this book was born
This book is for both ordinary and extraordinary people — those
who are looking for an integrated approach to help them understand
their own organisations and those they deal with in everyday life. It
is for entrepreneurs and managers who focus their energies on their
personal development and that of their colleagues, clients and their
organisations — those who often go through sleepless nights and
supported only by their own courage, dreams and ideas. It is also
designed to indirectly ease their long suffering families in the hope
that it helps answer those difficult questions and allows them to
devote more time to non-work-related activities. Whilst we make
no claim that this is a panacea, we hope that this novel approach
may help clarify thinking and thence generate insights for problem
solving.
Modern commerce is driven by outcomes and metrics. We tend
to look at headline figures and financial ratios without actually
realising why process failures can mean that the resources invested
(including people, money and human effort) are not delivering the
anticipated returns. Thus, we may not really understand the real
basis of failure of potential and of promising new ventures. Whilst
this is an important question for those in practice, with management
experience, it is also equally important in day to day interactions
with other organisations. Why is there no milk on the supermarket
shelf? Why can't my car be fixed today?
The view or thesis of this book is that academic tradition and
practice have resulted in people looking at organisations as a
collection of independent parts of an entity, without considering it
as a whole. Though this idea is not entirely new, our approach,
using ideas from clinical practice and considering organisations not
merely as hard or soft systems, but as living bodies, offers a useful
metaphor in determining how to optimise performance and develop
a useful classification for problem diagnosis and solutions. Business
or commerce represents the majority of resource provision
supporting human life. However, organisations also suffer from
issues, diseases and pitfalls which can be categorised in order to
select the appropriate treatment. A systematic approach is needed,
as recent crises show that economies can continue to grow while
remaining unhealthy, which will eventually lead to crisis.


Co-operating corporations
The word “corporation” is derived from the Latin word corpus,
meaning body. This is not accidental. Historical references suggest
that this dates back to the time of the Roman Emperor, Justinian,
referring to an entity that has an independent existence above and
beyond its members, as well as enjoying rights and privileges
beyond those of its members. A corporation is, however, virtual.
While we may view it as a thing or "reify" it, this does not allow
physical life, and equally, because it is a virtual entity, it may not be
experienced by observers in identical ways. Therefore, there is no
single understanding of the nature of organisations even though we
talk (and write) about them as if this is so. Additionally,
organisations consist of people and function as the result of
processes where internal and external stakeholders interact. In other
words, people and outside organisations become involved in
sustaining the life of a corporation. These interactive processes are
vibrant and dynamic as well as interlinked and mutually related,
and they operate continuously.
The idea of a unified whole that is made of components that
function together can also be identified in armies. This offers a
plausible reason for modern managers and business leaders to adopt
the use of military strategies and the work and concepts of military
strategists. This explains why bookshelves containing business
literature also feature analyses of the works of famous strategists
and tacticians such as Sun Tzu, Julius Caesar, Alexander the Great,
Napoleon, Nelson and Genghis Khan. The common feature they
share is that they viewed their armies as a single live body, placing
emphasis on developing a sense of belonging and integration
amongst their people with success or failure being communally
shared. Refusal to support other regiments was heavily penalised
and thus they were able to develop powerful armies which were
manoeuvrable, strong and controllable. Corporations or
organisations are cohesive wholes too, not merely collections of
individuals and processes.
A ship’s crew is a good example of a self-contained "live"
organisation, where all crew members are interdependent in terms of
their functions and roles. Let us imagine a ship where navigators
are having trouble understanding what is happening in the engine
room or on the deck. Would you like to be on such a ship at rough
seas? Unless you are a risk lover, we assume not! However, it is
rather common that managers and staff have a very vague idea of
what their colleagues from other departments are doing. What will
happen when the first strong storm comes along to destroy their
ship (organisation)? Would you like to work in such an
organisation?


Organisational Anatomy
Organisations are vitally important for human life, as suggested
by Etzioni (1964), who pointed out that “we are born in
organisations, educated by organisations, and most of us spend
much of our lives working for organisations.” At the same time,
organisations are created by humans and reflect the human nature
of their creators. The structures and constitutions of the
organisations that Etzioni was thinking about are fairly similar to
human beings in several ways. The human body is developed to be
able to survive in different conditions and environments through
adaptation to local conditions. Similarly, organisations are built for
survival and profit-making in different environments and
conditions, i.e. countries, markets and industries. However,
organisations are also different from humans in terms of their
adaptability to different conditions and this begs answers to several
questions:
- Are there differences in the types of organisations, as a result
of long term adaptation, that are similar to the different
human populations in different environments?
- If so, can we expect the anatomies of such organisational
types to be similar, but with different functionality; will we
see organs assuming different forms as they exist in different
conditions?
- Will we observe an integrated organ level variance where
types are created to withstand different conditions, where
endomorphs, ectomorphs and mesomorphs, or different
resources, consumption, energy development and resourceutilisation
effect the organisational anatomy?
The science (or art) of anatomy was developed from research
carried out to understand and explain the structure and functions of
the human body. Even so, it took many centuries (and indeed
theories that we can now dismiss as preposterous) before any
development of a clear and agreed understanding emerged and still,
there is much that remains unknown. Whilst anatomy explains the
role and functions of organs, limbs, muscles, brain functions,
senses, nervous systems, blood systems and digestion, we cannot
treat the human body and internal problems without understanding
anatomy as a whole. Often the malfunctioning of a single part of the
body causes pain in other parts as well.
Continuing the metaphor, corporations or organisations are
equally complicated. Smaller organisations may appear to be less
complicated than the human body, and larger organisations and
states possibly more so. However, if we concentrate on the smaller
processes, we can see that similarly to anatomical studies of human
patients, it is a matter of size or degree, rather than innate
complexity. An organisation is like any other body which has a
skeleton of a certain type, has complex central and peripheral
nervous systems and has organs with specific functions which are
responsible for the transformation and transmission of resources.
The skeleton depends on the type and pattern of processes, and the
nature of resources utilised by each organisation that makes them
different. The brain of organisations exists in the physical map of
its governance structure — the board of directors and management
structure are responsible for the coordination of all internal
processes and the development of external relationships, as well as
developing the organisation as a strong and resourceful entity.
Functional departments are not single and independent units but
valuable and vital parts of the eternal process of resourcetransformation,
which must be designed to produce the best of
organisational potentials and secure successful development.
We can also consider that organisations possess an invisible
"soul" or "spirit" that offers a moral compass and underpins the
choices made in strategy and interpersonal interactions that meet
the requirements of external codes of conduct and their attitudes
towards all stakeholders.
Underlying this dissection is an assumption that all organisations
from all corners of the world are similar in their shapes, structures
and principles of trade. We can argue that the legal forms of
organisations are fairly similar in all countries and that all
organisations share common characteristics, a goal or purpose of
existence, but this ignores their "birth" or genesis. People often ask
how an American company would be different from a Chinese
company in its formation and whether that affects its future survival
and interactions — its "path dependence".


Organisational peculiarities
Most of the materials written about organisations suggest that it
does not matter whether the organisation is located in London, New
York, Dubai, Beijing or Frankfurt. Organisations will have the
same aims and problems as any other organisations — even the ones
in another hemisphere. They will be constantly challenged by
competitors for access to, and control of, better resources and
market position. The prevailing image of the "market" is of a horde
of wolves where the position is important, space is premium and
there is little or no place, food or support for the weakest members
of the pack. As a result, organisations adopt strategies to secure the
most comfortable position in terms of the flow of resources (food)
with minimum internal energy and resources being spent.
Organisations also interact with each other using verbal and nonverbal
forms of communication to exchange resources and
information around the clock, from day-to-day affairs, generation to
generation and — for long lived organisations — from century to
century.
We know from biology that active interaction is easiest between
members of the same family or form, who speak the same language
and send the same signals. On this basis, we cannot expect a retail
shop to exchange much information with a steel plant in terms of
business practice. This might appear to confirm the difference
between different forms of organisations. However, such exchanges
may be valuable because they offer new insights into processes. A
good example is the exchange between a Formula One car team and
a team from the National Blood Transfusion service. Both need to
deliver accurately and at speed, and valuable lessons were taken
from the experiences of both groups. This type of exchange, if
facilitated carefully, can lead to a jump in organisational evolution,
rather than the gradual change that we often see. Unlike the
seamless processes in our own bodies — where we do not need to
instruct the pancreas to process that bar of chocolate, or the liver to
deal with the burger, because it is all automatically done for us — in
the organisational body, different departments that are supposed to
support each other’s functions may be working hard, but not always
together. Thus, there may be a loss of efficiency as resources,
energy and effort are wasted or utilised sub-optimally or is lost as
the outcome may not be beneficial.
Organisations do not exist in a vacuum or in tranquil,
contemplative surroundings but in a very noisy and busy
environment known as the market. Have you ever tried to listen to a
market? Find a few minutes, relax, listen and think. You are most
likely to hear strange, wobbly noises as millions of different
messages come across and most are not easy to decipher. Managers
need to filter these messages to pay attention to the useful and
screen out noises that are fake, murky, misleading and illogical.
Intuitively, we tend to trust messages which come from reliable
sources. In the same way, in an organisation the role of
organisational senses and organisational sense-making was
identified by Karl Weick as affecting intra-organisational and interorganisational
relations. Organisational survival in such a noisy
environment depends on the ability to develop a healthy internal
structure and strong, healthy and effective external relations to
allow information to be transmitted into the organisational body for
processing through these external sense-making organs, which are
well-supplied with nerve endings.
Organisations also receive and transfer resources across this
external boundary or skin where the maturity and specific
conditions of these external relations either allow or disallow the
resources to flow, which affects the survival of the organisation.
The relative importance of body functions may vary in response to
different environments, but it is also crucial to consider an
integrated whole under those conditions to see if compensatory
mechanisms exist. As part of this, we may also consider: the rate of
growth of the number of businesses; incidents of strong and unfair
competition (direct and diffusive); scarcity of and constraining
conditions around resources, whether in terms of human resources,
land, commodities or even household bricks, changes to industry
and other external standards compared to previous centuries; and
finally, the demand for higher quality of products and services.


Organisational health and wellbeing
Organisations often have different functional disorders, whether
imprinted from the moment of establishment or gained during their
life, which directly influence the organisational performance,
therefore lying in the area of interest of organisational anatomy.
In medical terms, clinical anatomy allows the classification and
treatment of diseases based on systematic knowledge of the whole
body and the interdependency of all processes. Organisational
anatomy has a similar aim of finding effective treatments for
different organisational diseases. Thus, organisational anatomy can
help in understanding the different organisational functions in
different types of organisations, providing a clear classification of
organisational types and the differences between them,
development of strong and efficient organisations, and helping to
avoid mistakes in corporate problem solving.
In clinical practice, medical history or case history is collected
from the patient by asking specific questions either of the patient or
stakeholders with the aim of obtaining information that is useful in
formulating a diagnosis and providing medical care to the patient.
The medically relevant complaints reported by the patient or others
who are familiar with the patient are referred to as symptoms, in
contrast to clinical signs, which are ascertained by direct
examination by medical personnel. In organisational practise, the
organisational history or case history is collected from the
organisation by investigation with the aim of obtaining useful
information in formulating a diagnosis and providing support to the
organisation to overcome the challenge to its health. Often
performed by external consultants, this may be heavily "prescripted",
bringing existing attitudes and filters to the data
collection process and thus symptoms may be potentially missed.
A summary of all the information about a patient obtained on a
single or several occasions after the end of his or her initial period
under observation is usually prepared after the patient is discharged
from the hospital or after their final examination or treatment. A
similar approach is adopted by some — but not all — organisations,
whereby a summary of all information about an organisation based
on observations may be prepared through the “lessons learned”
routine in management after a challenge to its wellbeing or survival
health.


This book will address the following areas of study: forms and
types of organisations, ageing process, resources access and
utilisation, processes coordination and internal strength, appropriate
structures and functional effectiveness, classification and
description of typical and atypical diseases, and treatments of
organisational diseases.

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