You are here


The subject is organizations; The verb is organizing. (Scott & Davis, 2007)

The basic raw materials on which organizations operate are informational inputs that are ambiguous, uncertain, equivocal. Whether the information is embedded in tangible raw materials, recalcitrant customers, assigned tasks, or union demands, there are many possibilities or sets of outcomes that might occur. Organizing serves to narrow the range of possibilities, to reduce the number of ""might occurs."" The activities of organizing are directed toward the establishment of a workable level of certainty. An organization attempts to transform equivocal information into a degree of unequivocality with which it can work and to which it is accustomed. (Weick, 1979, pg 6). Compare with business. See organizing and organization for more on what organizations are and how/why they come about.

Danger in the reification of organizations --
Organizations are, while people act. To attribute organizations with acts confuses what an organization truly is. Organization is connecting episodes of social interaction (Weick, 1979, 45). Think of organizations using verbs, not nouns, in order to bring attention to the collective actions that make an organization. Don't anthropomorphize the organization and lose sight of the people doing the acting. People act, organizations are.

Organizations' place in the creative-destruction cosmos --

The creative-destruction cosmos encompasses all that business leaders need concern themselves about in seeking competitive advantage. From the conceptual elements of the definition of strategic management comes elements of this cosmos -- advantageous performance, business-organizations, strategy, environment, management, internal organization, and resources.

Human organizations are the means to carry out a business. (Stanley M. Davis, Future Perfect, Addison Wesley,1987).

Organizations, despite their apparent preoccupation with facts, numbers, objectivity, concreteness, and accountability, are in fact saturated with subjectivity, abstraction, guesses, making do, invention, and arbitrariness...just like the rest of us. Much of what troubles organizations is of their own making. (Weick, 1979, pp 5).

...organizations are often reluctant to admit that a good deal of their activity consists of reconstructing plausible histories after-the-fact to explain where they are now, even though no such history actually got them to precisely this place. ""How can I know what I think until I see what I say?"" (Weick, 1979, pp 5).

In every case of organizing, there is a shard sense of appropriate procedures and appropriate interpretations, an assemblage of behaviors distributed among two or more people, and a puzzle to be worked on. The conjunction of these procedures, interpretations, behaviors, and puzzles describes what organizing does and what an organization is. (Weick, 1979, pp 4).

Definition -- ""Organizations are ""structures of mutual expectation, attached to roles which define what each of its members shall expect from others and from himself"" (Vickers 1967, pp. 109-10) in Weick, 1979, pp 3.

Definition -- ""An organization is 'an identifiable social entity pursuing multiple objectives through the coordinated activities and relations among members and objects. Such a social system is open-ended and dependent for survival on other individuals and sub-systems in the larger entity -- society'"" (Hunt, 1972, p. 4) in Weick, 1979, pp 3.

Definition -- Organizational confusion as an indicator of validity is a crucial nuance because many of the ways of thinking about organizing portray organizations as superimposed structures. This imagery implies that there is not an underlying ""reality"" waiting to be discovered. Rather, organizations are viewed as the inventions of people, inventions superimposed on flows of experience and momentarily imposing some order on these streams. In the process, many portions of the streams of experience will remain unorganized, and those portions temporarily organizes by imposed ideologies will remain equivocal. These enduring equivocalities should be detected by scrupulous observers, but since that which is noticed is partially indescribable and partially incomprehensible, the efforts at description will appear flawed. Such are the dilemmas that face those who choose as their topics of interest phenomena that are complex, fluid, collective. Weick, 1979, pp 12-13.

Definition -- ""Organizations are goal directed, boundary-maintaining, and socially constructed systems of human activities."" (Aldrich, Howard, (1979), Organizations and Environments, Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall)

  • Organizations are designed and built for a purpose
  • An organization's goals provide a force that motivates action
  • There are collective goals and activity coordination
  • They distinguish between members and non-members
  • Organizations have activity systems for accomplishing work
  • Organizations are open thermodynamic systems whose goal it is to produce lower entropy inside the organization relative to the outside environment

Definition -- Decision opportunities are fundamentally ambiguous stimuli. Although organizations can often be viewed conveniently as vehicles for solving well-defined problems or structures within which conflict is resolved through bargaining, they also provides sets of procedures through which participants arrive at an interpretation of what they are doing and what they have done while in the process of doing it. From this point of view, an organization is a collection of choices looking for problems, issues and feelings looking for decision situations in which they might be aired, solutions looking for issues to which they might be the answer and decision makers looking for work. (Cohen, March, and Olsen, 1972, pp 2). See garbage can decision process.

Some elements of organizing - properties of organizations (Weick, 1979, pp 13) --

  1. Equivocal information triggers organizing.
  2. Efforts to stabilize meanings for equivocal displays typically involve the efforts of two or more people.
  3. Most efforts at sensemaking involve interpretation of previous happenings and of writing plausible histories that link these previous happenings with current outcomes.
  4. Interdependencies among people are the substance of organizations, but these interdependencies are fluid and shifting.
  5. Organizations have a major hand in creating the realities which they then view as ""facts"" to which they must accommodate.
  6. An ambivalent stance with respect to ""lessons of experience"" is a major way in which organizations preserve some adaptability to cope with changed contingencies.
  7. Events in organizations are held together and regulated by dense, circular, lengthy strands of causality perceived by members.
  8. Networks of self-regulating causal links are realized in the form of coordinated behaviors between two or more people.
  9. Organizations frequently use only parts of persons, and those portions used vary in the ease with which they can be replaced.
  10. Most policies within organizations have both internal and external consequences, whether intended or not, and these consequences may work in opposite directions.
  11. There is ambivalence within organizations toward being open and closed and toward being suspicious and trusting.
  12. Subordinates ultimately determine the amount of influence exerted by those who lead. (pg 16)
  13. Control is made possible by the pattern of alliances that exists. (pp 16-17)
  14. Organizations levels explain functioning in organizations. Flat organizations offer more autonomy, members' feeling of freedom vs. coercion, easier effective communication, and relies on the formation of informal organization, the interaction patterns that develop in addition to those that are formally prescribed by lines of authority. (pg 17)
  15. The reason for organizing may only become apparent after the organization is formed.
  16. The notion of a social contract is implicit in organization membership. It specifies why members consent to join and remain in organizations. Individual members consent to be governed; in return, some smaller body agrees to govern in a beneficent manner. (pp 18-19).
  17. Organizations engage in problem solving, describes as localized problem solving. (pp 20-21)
  18. Environments are the outcome of organizing. (pg 22)
  19. The creation of actors within the organization is an outcome of organizing. (pg 22)
  20. Technology is relevant solely for the information is provides the organizational members and for the effects it has on equivocality. (pg 22).

Organization classifications -- organizations can be classified many ways. See industry for the economist's view of organization classification. See populations of organizations for the organizational ecologist's view.

Organizations and organisms -- organizations are often compared to organisms. Though this analogy can provide some insights, it can also be very misleading. See organisms for the way organizations and organisms are different.

See media for a discussion of how organizations are the most significant media of our time.

See organizational theory further discussion of organizations and views of organizations. See organization, causality, and teleology for discussion of the phenomenon of organization.