Organism or Machine, Which is Your Organisation? Professional Journey Steps: step #28

Organism or Machine, Which is Your Organisation? Professional Journey Steps: step #28

Man cogs Organism in machine

Are we producing organisations that are an organism or machine? We have been programmed for decades – over a century – on how organisations need to approach the working elements within our organisation to attain success. This thinking remains partially relevant BUT will no longer reap the best benefits and achievements in the current era.

Start thinking and treating your organisation as an organism rather than a machine you’ll be well on your way to ultimate success.

Your company, foundation, firm, business, corporation, enterprise, practice, association, consortium… profit or non-profit, public or private whatever you call it, whatever form – is an organism!

We must stop treating our organisations as machines and start thinking of them as organisms – where the people and departments (made up of people) are mutually interdependent living, breathing, emotional beings and parts of the whole. Not just a production line, product, set of systems, equipment or even the Pythonesque ‘machine that goes beep’.

You say, hey wait a minute there pal!! We always consider our people our greatest asset – just look at our organisational core values!!!

I am sure you do but this Professional Journey Step advice is to simply ask you to consider how much you are influenced by a long-standing mechanistic conviction and approach.

Do a little self-test with me – it’ll only take a second. How often do you use or hear idioms and metaphors such as these;

  • We want to work like a well oiled machine
  • We’re firing on all cylinders
  • You’re a cog in the machine
  • We need / or are going through some re-engineering

There is a long list and they have become cemented into our organisational vernacular and psyche. These result in a subconscious deeply seeded and accepted association of our organisations as machines. This is a very dangerous, not to mention unproductive, mindset.

This mechanistic mindset is a product of the Industrial revolution as are many of our business management practices still in use today – and vigorously defended. Yet both completely and utterly out of date as the mainstay in an Innovation-Information age!

It’s understandable how this connection of organisation to machine / systems came to be – it started a over a hundred years ago during the industrial era and resulted in major advances in efficiency, production, the first real and practical management theories and practices. [1] Even safety processes have their origins here – and they were exceptionally successful!!

In addition to the new machine based methods being incredibly successful another factor, which contributes to their being retained, is they are still useful and indeed required for our success as a part of the whole organisation – the management realm.[2]

In fact whenever we evolve into a new age the developments of the previous age are still a part of the whole of the new age – they are not purged. Our era evolutions have not been quantum leaps but more segues over time – although these periods are evolving exponentially more rapidly. Think of the timeline: Hunter Gatherer era (xxxx BC – 14th Century) to Agricultural era (14th – 19th Century) to Industrial era (19th – 20th Century) to Service era (20th Century) and currently the technology – Innovation – Information era (21st Century). Each time we evolve we bring the previous ones with us as a collective – we still have elements and a need for each! We still need food, we still build things, we still require services… so methods attached to these – best practices – need to be retained. They are simply no longer the dominant forces.

So it is we still have a very practical and real use for the methods devised in the industrial era today – but they are past providing the major advantages they once had, they are elements of us simply producing – they are no longer the secrets to winning. The modern era is people centric and its in nurturing and supporting our people we’ll find success.

Wait there’s more; other powerful contributing factors why this machine-oriented philosophy’s supremacy and unbalanced modern implementation still exists is these methods and theories are easily understood, easily implemented and easily measured. Whereas when dealing with the people side – the leadership realm – all three of these are anything but easy, they are complex and confusing. Because of this they require specific expertise and experience to create, maximise and retain the incredible potential blend of, the right people, with the right psychological environment, a committed and uniform direction based on a shared set of values and sense of purpose.

Yikes!!! That’s ridiculous and impossible, a bunch of theory and hoopla! A pipe dream by people who stand back and write books and articles not by anyone who has actually had to head an organisation or deal with a real life operation!! Sorry but it is possible and probable – we’ve done it, many times!

This formula – for lack of a better word – is provided by learning and living great leadership at all levels and it usually has to start with helpful intervention from an objective and expert outside source. This requisitioning the right help is not a failure but a triumphant, praiseworthy decision to engage whomever you need to help. Take the help and advice, understand and appreciate it, implement it and you WILL be successful and finally feel satisfaction in place of frustration and anxiety.

Every successful organisation needs a combination of Management and Leadership skills and methods with a healthy mixture of positive culture, safety and governance to reach ultimate success. In the current Innovation-Information era our main gains will come from our people rather than as they have historically from our mechanistic systems; Leadership skills balanced properly and slightly edging Management.

Organisational balance
                        Organisational Balance

Our MSB Max Professional Journey Steps advice for this edition: As you continue your strategic planning and look to the future and how you’ll develop and improve of your organisations, just be aware of how much possible subliminal influence may be at play pushing you toward a mechanistic rather than organism oriented path. Have a look at what you have in place currently; are you designed to treat your people like machines? After you utter the resounding NO!!! Go back and have a closer look at your processes, procedures, structure… everything designed for your people. We constantly see they are – unconsciously and with the best of intentions – designed in subtle and even overt ways to be machine rather than people oriented – more of a machine than an organism. The retention of what was so successful in the past is still very strong and influential and being implemented – yet not what will provide you the level of success you desire.

Let us know your experiences, challenges, solution stories – we care about what you’re doing. If we can help, provide some guidance on this journey path, simply reach out, we’re here to help you, its what we do.

Enjoy the journey

MSB Max team



[1] See the birth of the philosophy in work by; Henry Ford, Frederick Taylor, Fayol, et al

[2] For a clearer understanding of the distinction please have a read of a previous article: