Worked Up At Work

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Are You Building a Community or an Organization?

Businesses, organizations and communities are not always the same thing.

This is a question of organizational design. If you are a business owner/operator or if you are an employee, this question is important. Is the business set up to be a community or an organization?

An organization is, by definition, exclusive. A community is, also by definition, inclusive. Let’s use the military as an example. Individuals join groups because, among other things, they need to belong. So, let’s say our individual joins the Army.

The choice is whether to go the officer or enlisted route. Let’s say our man or woman chooses the officer route, so the progression is from lieutenant to captain to major and on up to general. At each step, the ranks get more and more exclusive. If our man or woman selected the enlisted route, there are different Special Forces, like the Rangers. Either way, the idea is, “You follow our rules, our policies, meet our expectations, and you get promoted and get other benefits.“ At each step of the selection process, it gets more and more exclusive.

Now let’s go the other way and look at the creation of a community. By definition, a community is more and more inclusive. A group that strives to become a community makes room for its members. If a person has an anger management problem, we put up with tantrums and diatribes until they don’t seem so extreme. If another person has drinking or drug problem, we put up with him or her being undependable, angry or even jovial. We adjust to deal with whatever behavior comes until that behavior becomes “institutional” for that person. Another person may be obnoxious, so we adjust and put up with the behavior until it doesn’t seem so obnoxious.

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Actually, to become a true community, it takes much more effort and time than it takes to become an efficient organization. In evolving into a true community, something great is accomplished. Tolerance is perfected, horizons are expanded and people eventually evolve. All this is good. Understand that the time and effort this takes usually is beyond the scope of mercantilism or capitalistic objectives. This is different from a business deciding to “go green” or deciding to take on a mission.

A group’s evolving into an organization is inherently easier and more time and process efficient. If the objective is to make money, then becoming an organization is the best answer. I am not suggesting immoral or unethical Darwinism is the norm. Ethics and morality should always be injected into the process of becoming an organization.

Here is a not too well kept secret: The government wants business to evolve into communities. Governments and, indeed, higher education are communities. Using some of Blanchard’s terminology, governments and higher ed settings are low task / high relationship in their design. Business tends to be oriented toward high task / low relationship. My counsel to my clients is to elevate the relationship side of the equation, but focus on productivity and performance first. Everything else comes second. 

Steve M. Cohen, Ed.D., C.M.C., is the president of Labor Management Advisory Group and HR Solutions: On-Call, and the author of Mess Management: Lessons From a Corporate Hit Man.

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