Structure

It is inherent that everything has some structure to it – whether it is a building, organism, society, team, market, government or organization. Any dynamic structure is often what we consider to be a system, and each system is also a sub-system of a larger system. Each system exists to perform a function and the structure of each system determines that function. So, in short, structure determines function, or put another way, systems determine behavior.

We see this principle at work everyday, whether it’s watching rush hour traffic on the inter-state or sales people trying to make quota.

We also see it in natural systems. An essential nitrogenous component of all living matter is a protein, which in turn, is a collection of amino acids. How these amino acids are connected to each other, sequential, spatially and even the strength of the bond itself determines what kind of protein will result – demonstrating the important organic principal:  structure determines function.

Very much like modern organizations, these proteins must survive in a very dynamic and chaotic environment all while constantly interacting both internally and externally.

In addition to being purposeful and learning, there are 4 important qualities that deserve additional consideration. To be an organic, living structure, it must be viable, integrated, defined, and modular.

Viable

A Viable Organization is one that is structured to grow and develop. As all living things must be able to manage or control growth in some form or fashion, it seems reasonable to try and adapt these concepts to organizations.

Stafford Beer, one of the fathers of Cybernetics, is generally credited with adapting the systems found in nature for use in organizations. He called his structure the Viable System Model, and it utilizes modular structures connected by integrated sub-systems to manage the variety of outputs (complexity) from each system and complexity is one of the biggest challenges we face in managing organizations in a dynamic environment. Dr. Beer explains the concept of his model in this video.

          

Integrated

In order to perform well, the integration of functions within an organization is critical. Each function or group must be able to communicate and act off of a common platform. For any organization to succeed, there must be a coordinated interaction of multiple processes that must align themselves around a common purpose. In short, there is a modular system where the pieces can interact in ways to find the best “fit”.

The concept of integrational structures are prevelant in the design approaches used by architects and have even given inspiration to a school of thought now known as Organic Architecture. Frank Lloyd Wright's "Falling Water"Here, the purpose is to “promote harmony between human habitation and the natural world through design approaches so sympathetic and well integrated with its site that buildings, furnishings, and surroundings become part of a unified, interrelated composition”. One of the most notable architects to first define and use this approach was Frank Lloyd Wright.

We can find excellent examples of this in almost any living organism because for almost any biological functions to be expressed, two molecules must be able to bind to each other. For instance, an antibody protein must bind to an antigen to provoke an immune response, a hormone protein must bind to a cell surface receptor to trigger a cell reaction, or a protein containing the leucine zipper motif must bind to DNA to regulate gene expression. In order for the two molecules to bind in either of these situations, they must recognize each other and form a series of noncovalent bonds. Recognition of two molecules for each other is termed “structural complementarity”; that is, the three-dimensional structures must complement each other in the shapes of the interacting surfaces.

Other analogies that have been used are a key fitting into a lock or the wooden square of a simple child’s game that fits into the square-shaped cutout of a puzzle board.

The Organic Enterprise constantly facilitates this type of interaction in order to find the optimal performance combination of its people and resources. This can be achieved by re-evaluating existing hierarchy or “silos” of operations within a company, and creating constantly evolving teams of change agents who quickly self-organize to accomplish a task before moving to the next opportunity.

Defined

The structure must also be well-defined and ordered. For each part of the system to be able to function together in controlled manner, there must be some definition or standards – a common language. With all complex systems in a dynamic environment, there is a great deal of variation that must be measured, analyzed and communicated.

Statistical Process Control (SPC) as used by Lean Six Sigma (LSS) practitioners provide scores of tools and concepts useful for helping organizations. The DMAIC process used in LSS consists of Defining, Measuring, Analyzing, Improving, and then Controlling each process.

In this way, much like the nervous system of a living organism, an organization can utilize sensors such as Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) to constantly monitor changes in the environment and quickly act on these variations to insure the on-going health of the organization.

Modular

Constant movement must be considered and designed into any organization to be able to react to a dynamic environment. Therefore, the structure of an organization must be modular and allow the parts to move freely in order to constantly adapt to changing requirements. Most living organisms are self-organising systems, and as such they work much like a market to self-direct the greatest resources to the greatest needs.

Traditional hierarchies in organizations can become rigid silos which restrict and discourage the movement and exchange of information required to adapt to dynamic customer needs and desires. An Organic Enterprise seeks to solve this by creating fast-moving, entrepreneurial teams designed to move with the customer, respond to their requirements, and efficiently communicate these changes to the overall organization.

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