What is an Organization?

What is an Organization?

I have created a Glossary section to help the reader understand the unique lexicon of organizational change management (OCM). However, there are a few terms that are fundamental to understanding the change management process. First and foremost is understanding the word organization. Before we can change something, we must understand what that something is. A common conceptualization is that organizations are social structures created by individuals to support the collaborative pursuit of specified goals (Handel, 2003, p. 11).

      However, there a various ways to describe the form and function of organizations. In the fields of psychology, sociology and political science, the are thousands of books, essays and dissertations written about the distinctions and definitions between the individual and collectives of individuals called organizations. There is no more fundamental aspect of our humanity than what we do together when we form an organization to do something.


Common Definition of Organizations

  1. Deliberately planned groups

  2. With some specific apparent goal or goals

  3. Generally designed to outlive the participation of the particular individuals who participate at any one time

  4. Having a more or less well-developed set of formal rules, and

  5. A relatively fixed structure of authority, roles, and responsibilities that is independent of the personal characteristics of those filling the roles at any particular time (Handel op. cit. p 1-2).


Element of Organizations

  1. Environment. Organization exists in a specific physical, technological, cultural, and social environment to which it must adapt.

  2. Strategy and Goals. Strategy describes the choices organizations make about who to serve, the basis on which it competes in its domain, the specific tactics it employs, and the output goals it sets.

  3. Work and Technology. Organizations have to perform critical tasks in order to achieve the organization’s goals. Work describes the tasks undertaken to achieve the goals. Technology is the set of mechanisms used to transform inputs into outputs.

  4. Formal Organization. The formal codification of the organization (e.g., organizational chart) is descriptive and lays out human resource practices (e.g., hiring, training, benefits), job design (e.g., division of labor, job tasks ) and the overall organizational structure (e.g., functional form, multi-functional form, matrix form ) .

  5. Informal Organization. The informal aspects include prominent characteristics that impact the organization’s progress such as culture, norms, values; internal and external social networks; power and politics; and the action of leaders.

  6. People. Organizations consist of people who play different roles that help the organization achieve its goals. They may be leaders, employees, vendors, stock holders, board members or customers/clients/constituents (Scott & Davis, 2007, 19-25).


Organizations are Systems

W. Richard Scott states that:

  • organizations are, first and foremost, systems of elements, each of which affects and is affected by the others, and

  • organizations often start from an image – an organization as a machine for accomplishing goals (Scott & Davis, 2007, 25-27).

      He categorizes organizations into three sociological systems. They are the rational system, natural system and open system. However, it is the rational system that he puts forward as the dominant perspective in the field… guiding the work of the majority of organizational scholars… being embraced… by most real-world managers and other practitioners.

The rational system is defined states that organizations are collectives oriented to the pursuit of relatively specific goals and exhibiting relatively highly formalized social structures. Organizations, in this context, are instruments designed to attain specific goals. The rationality refers to the implantation of goals, but not their selection. Scott points out that there are many examples of organizations who efficiently and effectively carried out irrational goals.

Organization as Organism

Gareth Morgan, in his book Images of Organization (Morgan, 2006), makes the case for understanding the human organization as a metaphor for the natural organic organism.  An organization shares the same root word with organism for a reason. Organizations are made up of interrelated sub-systems, like organisms are made of interrelated parts and organs.