c. How Organisations and Hierarchies Emerge

How Organisations and Hierarchies Emerge

“…the world doesn’t change one person at a time. It changes as networks of relationships form among people who discover they share a common cause and vision of what’s possible.”

Margaret Wheatley & Deborah Frieze, “Using Emergence to Take Social
Innovation to Scale”, The Berkana Institute.

The Nature of Organisations

In this discussion, “organisation” is a generic term. It means any formal or informal group of individuals who interact, co-operate, have a common culture, a common purpose, and carry out communal activities at any scale.

This common purpose may be:

  1. To yield benefits for the organisation itself.
  2. To yield benefits for other external individuals or organisations.
  3. A combination of the two. Because an organisation must maintain itself, it is never entirely altruistic. However, because it requires inputs to function, it is normally co-operative. This involves a process of negotiation and agreement.
  4. To yield disbenefits for other individuals or organisations. If this is the purpose of an organisation, then it is normally part of a larger one which benefits from this behaviour.

Because an organisation must maintain itself and its function, its purpose cannot be disbenefits for itself. However, this does not prevent an organisation from harming itself in error. Nor does it prevent a sub-organisation from harming it.

Benefits are, of course, the satisfaction of needs and the avoidance of contra-needs. In the case of individuals, these needs are for existence and procreation, kin relatedness, non-kin relatedness and growth. Their contra-needs are any failures of these. In the case of organisations, their needs are to maintain and operate their processes, and to produce the outputs, for which they were established. Their contra-needs are any failures of these processes and outputs.

Organisations fulfil their purpose by satisfying their own needs, avoiding their own contra-needs, and as outputs, providing satisfiers and contra-satisfiers for others. Resources may also be necessary to fulfil an organisation’s purpose. If so, a process is needed to turn the necessary resources into sufficient satisfiers, or ways of avoiding contra-satisfiers. This process can be carried out either by the organisation itself, or by another individual or organisation. Thus, an organisation will either:

  1. acquire, from another individual or other organisation, ready-made satisfiers, or ways of avoiding contra-satisfiers, or
  2. acquire the necessary resources from another individual, organisation, or elsewhere in its environment, and process them.

How Organisations Emerge

There are several steps in the emergence of an organisation. These are described in the diagram and text below.

Motivator. Motivators are defined as perceived opportunities to benefit oneself and/or others, and perceived risks of dis-benefits to oneself and/or others. Organisations arise from the decision-making processes of one or more individuals. Each will have recognised the same motivator, prioritised it, and concluded that action is required. Each will also have assessed the options for action, and will have concluded that they lack the resources to carry it out alone.

Individual Response. Each individual may then decide that the motivator is something beyond their control. Alternatively, they may decide to adopt a problem-solving approach, and either join an existing organisation, or form a new one to deal with it collectively.

Communication and Assembly. If the affected individuals adopt a problem-solving approach, they will contact and communicate with one another. If they assemble, either formally or informally, then this creates an organisation.

There are interactions between the following stages, and they normally progress in parallel.

Belief System. The members of the organisation debate the motivator, either formally or informally. Ultimately, they either create or adopt a belief system which, correctly or incorrectly, explains the motivator and how they hope to address it.

Hierarchy. Owing to the principal of requisite hierarchy, a social hierarchy emerges within the organisation. Each level in the hierarchy is known as a stratum. Those in a higher stratum have greater social status and control over the activities of the organisation than those in lower strata.

Organisation. The organisation structures itself and the processes necessary for it to carry out its intended function. This structure comprises sub-organisations with specific delegated responsibilities, a command sub-organisation, and a system of communication between them.

Function. At some stage, the states of organisation, hierarchy and belief are sufficient for an organisation to begin carrying out its intended function.

Any of the final four stages, i.e., belief system, hierarchy, and organisation formation, as well as actual function, can result in motivators for others. For example, individuals and organisations will generally attempt to obtain a satisfier with the least expenditure of their own resources. This may pose a threat to others. Thus, other organisations which pre-exist or become established, may act in competition or opposition.

I will discuss the various steps in this process in more detail, one by one in the articles which follow. I will then move on to discuss how organisations sustain themselves and how, ultimately, they collapse.

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