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What is an organization? The answer will surprise you

Organizations are living systems, not just a gathering of people; they are defined by the unseen web of processes that outlast the comings and goings of individuals, crafting outcomes far greater than what any one person can achieve.
By Michael Jones
Published Nov 03, 2023

An organization can often be perceived simply as a collective of individuals working together. Yet, when we consider the dynamic nature of the workforce – with people regularly joining and leaving due to various reasons such as job fit issues, retirement, or unforeseen circumstances – we realize that there's something more fundamental that keeps the organization functioning.

Let's pause for a moment to reflect on any organization you're familiar with; it could be your workplace, a school, a nonprofit, or a religious institution. Within this entity, a multitude of individuals are engaged in various activities. Imagine your own role amidst this intricate network of communications and actions. As you contemplate this, breathe deeply... now, let's broaden our perspective to encompass the entire organization. Every day, individuals collaborate, transforming time, effort, and resources into outcomes that transcend their individual contributions. It's a remarkable process – each person, with their unique expertise, working in harmony with others to produce something of value.

Upon closer examination, what truly defines an organization is not just the people but the system itself: a complex web of processes interlinking individuals and resources. Even as people transition in and out of roles, it is the enduring process that seamlessly integrates them into the organization's fabric. This system – often invisible, frequently undocumented, and sometimes inconsistent – is the essence of an organization. The realization that the processes which are the backbone of organizational operations are not always explicitly defined can indeed be unsettling.

Over time, as changes occur, an organization's processes must not only survive but also adapt and improve. The true strength of an organization lies in its capacity to perpetuate and refine these processes, to ensure the creation and maintenance of something that surpasses the sum of its parts. This ability to execute and evolve its foundational systems is what enables an organization to thrive and maintain its existence.

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