Wednesday, September 10, 2014

A framework to understand Organizations

What is an organization? Organization is a set of people put together consciously and bound by a purpose. Organizations exist on its own and it has its own personality. Organization may be transient or eternal. 

To understand the nature of an organization, there are following elements which needs to be comprehended to map it completely. They are:
  • Vision or core focus
  • Structure
  • Processes
  • Information flow
Vision or core focus

Every organization has always one focus area which usually is the reason of its existence. Companies are a kind of organization, whose sole purpose is to earn profit. Yes, to be politically correct, one may see statements like customer delight but at the end, a company has to exist to earn profit. Army is another kind of organization whose core focus is to save the country by fighting with enemies. To understand the organization, it's core motive needs to be understood to make sense of other elements.

Core focus also helps in understanding the ethos of an organization. I am not trying to say that profit making is bad and fighting for country is good. It's not even about categorizing them into good and bad. And I don't agree that profit making is bad. A organization which makes profit, gives employment to many. Understanding core focus helps in understanding the spirit of organization and what kind of issues drives it.


Structure is about how the company is organized. It  means how company is structured to facilitate operations. For example sales team might be organized around regions. Engineering teams might be organized around skills or product lines. 

It also means how people are organized in teams and supervisory structures.The hierarchical structure of the company is important to understand. Who reports to whom kind of thing.


Processes is about how things happen in an organization. For example how orders are received in the company and how the products are delivered to customers. In case of army, if a troop needs to be relocated than how the process will happen.

Processes are like the action in the organization. How people will get leaves is a process in itself. Processes may or may not be linear. Also many processes may cross each other and may have many forks in terms of direction. In organizations, the processes may not always be defined to the last bit. Many times they are defined at runtime based on the need and understanding of people involved.

Information Flow

Information flow is about how the information is passed in the organization. It may be from top to bottom or from bottom to top. It can also be outwards to customers and suppliers or inwards from customers and suppliers. For example a person might send a mail to his supervisor for certain issue but may choose to copy many other people. This is an example of information flow. The grape vines are another important aspects of information flow, which needs to be understood. Both formal and informal mechanism of information flow needs to be comprehended to understand an organization better.

We can draw an analogy with human body. Structure is like the skeleton and flesh. Processes are like different systems which includes respiratory or digestive system. Information flow is like nervous system, which makes body to react differently to different kind of cues. The core focus of a human differs from human to human. Some wants to learn everything in the world and some others want to enjoy ever possible material things. 

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