We believe that organizations can be described at a fundamental level by a number of deeply held ideas. In our research of progressive organizations, we focused on five.
- An idea of Technology: What does technology mean to an organization?
- An idea of Performance: What is assumed to define good performance in an organization?
- An idea of Rule: What is the proper way to use power over and with people to get things done?
- An idea of Work: What are the ways that human collaboration is organized to get things done?
- An idea of Life: What is an organization’s inert outlook on life itself?
The Five Fundamental Ideas of Organizations
Most people are not used to think about organizations possessing ideas. Yet those ideas are exactly what organizational culture is about. While designing organizations in the digital age, it is tempting to work through them in a mechanistic way, by first looking at the needs of technology, then by formulating an idea of performance, rule, work, and finally, life – like a rational breakdown of ideas from one sphere to another, thereby building a self-supporting construct of ideas.
Alas, it is not as simple. The other direction is just as important: Shouldn’t we start from the idea of life, from an individual’s conception of what life is all about? From this, the humanistic, outside-in perspective on the central ideas of an organization, we subordinate the ideas of work, rule, performance, and technology to the idea of life. Isn’t that a better perspective?
In truth, there is no best way. Both mental frames are correct. Companies are coercive systems invented to get some mundane tasks done, like delivering water and energy into homes or fresh vegetables to consumers. However, companies are places where humans spend 50% of their wake hours, from the time they finish school to retirement. Life should have a place in them too, besides purely mechanistic, rational calculations.
Every organization holds these ideas. We think that it’s much better to make these ideas explicit than to keep them lingering unstated. And it’s even better to bundle them up in a constant theme by which a company or team can configure its configuration of work designs. As these companies did:
Comparison of Five Company Themes
To learn more, read Part III of the book.