Metaphors, Meanings and Insights! An Organisation, a Ship, an Individual, and an Orchestra
At times, we use the metaphor of a ship to represent an organisation,and rightly so, because both of them sail, although in different waters. The sail is different as the waters are different. One ship moves from place to place while the other does not move at all! How did this metaphor come about at all? Perhaps because the organisation sails from time to time while the ship sails from place to place in time. Nonetheless, thesimilarity evokes a pleasant and vivid picture, which could be quite comfortingparticularly because we usually visualise a robust and stable ship. Naturally, a weak ship that is likely to sink does not come up in our minds when the metaphor is used. The metaphor creates a feeling of security in individuals, which might even be romantic and hence misleading.
The school educational philosophy is to make all domains of the school deep learning experiences for its children. OIS deliberately moves away from the traditional, rote learning mechanism.
A well-designed and well-built ship might ensure that its sailors have a safe and enjoyable sail. The better the technology and materials, the better is the sail. The ship and the seas together decide the quality of sail for the sailors. The ship of an organisation, on the other hand, is one where both the quality of the ship, the nature of the seas and the quality of the sailors are equally important. The captain of the ship on the seas is most important and the sailors play a much lesser role. In the case of the organisational ship, the leadership and the sailors are perhaps equally important in the modern, non-autocratic paradigm. Each sailor could not only make holes in the shipbut could also be a hole. The people comprising an organizationdetermine how sound the ship, which holds them, is or will be. How does one take care of the holes? This is a challenge indeed for organisation designers and managers alike!
Another equally interesting metaphor is one of the individuals being the threads of an organisation, which in itself is the fabric. The first picture that gently creeps into one’s mind is that of a fine cloth which is ready for some good use without doubts about its quality. The complexity and intricacy with which one weaves the threads determines how beautiful the fabric will be. The threads have their colours, strength, finesse, twists, and stretch. The texture, design, utility, and beauty of the fabric will depend on the summation of the quality of the threads and the dexterity of the weaver and the quality of weave. Once the threads are interwoven the fabric and threadsare one and almost inseparable. One could only tear them apart!
This metaphor clarifies the needto choose good threads to weave a good fabric. Does it always mean that good threads will cost more and the good fabric would be too costly? We sometimes see the educational processes and the relationship between teachers and students as the kernel of a school, which is an organisation. We need to tune the relationships and the processes experienced in the relationships with care and concern if they are to play the right tunes. In this sense, a good organisation could be visualised as a harmonious and well-coordinated orchestra, with the individuals being the well-strung instruments.
A good organisation produces people or enables people who can contribute well in an orchestra, by playing melodious notes and songs through their proficient, effective, and efficient contribution to the organisation. In such an organisation, people would be functioning well, thereby enhancing their organisational value and personal happiness as well. Even if one instrument is not in harmony with the orchestra, the music produced is not of good taste!
The above metaphors provide windows to delve into the meaning and essentials of organisations better but do they provide suggestions on how to design organisations better? Perhaps they do not equip someone to design an organisation better but with the awareness of the processes, it may be easier to attempt organisational development with more care and concern. One must attempt this because the lives of people, both children and staff, small and big, are at stake. If the intent were as clear as this, one would be able to identify catalysts for change in organisations. The change agents or catalysts are some of the individualswho seem to have the intensity to expresstheir capacities and talents in an organic, natural,and effective manner in any organisation. They do not look for a well-tuned organisation but begin where they are. If such individuals are recognised, encouraged and provided the requisite support they can provide the impetus for continuous improvement. A few individuals with capacity, involvement, and energetic contribution can turn around an organisation to be sound and good. An organisation absorbs the output from such individuals or group of people to improve its value and contribution.
To a student of organisational development like us, the metaphor of an earthworm appeals a lot! It appears slimy and does not evoke a pleasant picture in one’s mind. One would not like to look at it or be with it if a choice were available. However,it is the earthworm, which prepares the ground of fertility on this planet. Each earthworm expresses its nature by tilling the soil for its survival and growth without bothering about the other creatures at all, even its own kind. In the process, they have achieved a gigantic function, which is the survival of their species over longer periods than most other species lived on this planet. The contribution of the family of earthworms is splendid for humans and if only we could observe them closely!
If both an individual and an organisation can trigger the cycle of improvement in a simple manner why are a sizeable number of organisations not living well? Is a good individual more important than a good institution? What is a “good” organisation? How do an individual and an organisation relate to each other?
Man has raised, examined, and discussed questions related to the interplay between the individual and an organisation.Thoughts and ideas of an ideal organisation,to bring about and nurture the best individuals sprang across the ages. In spite of such efforts, why is it not easy to find long lasting organisations of high quality?What makes organisations good and sound over the short term but not sustainable over longer periods? What more is required to make them good over longer periods? Are good organisations the outcome of the conception and vision of good designers or do they come about as the summation of the outcome of the “good” people or good processes available during a period?
The hostels are one of the mainstays and strengths of our school. With most the house parents now having experience of a few years, the quality of supervision, guidance and counsel provided by them is much better and richer than in the previous years. The hostels seem like home away from home for most of the well-meaning children, who are interested to grow up well. The children with unacceptable language, behaviour, habits, and tendencies do not see our hostels as their home, because they cannot do what they want. Instead, we guide them, persuade, explain, and expect them to learn and change their ways. Our house parents are people of integrity, with good intent, who will not guide children in the “wrong” manner under any circumstances. They will take care of the children in the right manner, even if the children do not like it, and try to behave provocatively towards them. We observe that in the other domains of interaction with students too, our teachers are patient and take it upon themselves to correct, improve, and guide the children under all circumstances. Obviously, there are no easy solutions to such challenges.
One would like to continue to explore so that we understand the matter better and thereby make better attempts of organisational development. Let us take recourse to the analogy of an orchestra playing fine music. The continuous modulation of the different sounds produced by the different instruments in an orchestra holds the key to the melody we hear. Each of the instruments produces a sound, which integrates with the other sounds in melodious harmony. The participants are alert to the call of the orchestra and contribute naturally at the right time in the right manner. The competence, intensity, energy, consistency, and collaboration of each of the team members contribute to the beauty of the orchestra that fill the ears of the listeners with life. Does the orchestra come about by itself or does anorchestrator “see”, or hear what he has not yet produced?
There may not be a clear answer to these questions but asking them certainly brings us closer to an understanding of what an organisation is. It is important to be close to such questions because organisations determine the life each of us will experience.
What is more important in life than experiencing good life with or without organisations? However, having realised that organisations, per se, do come in the way of the best experiences of life, should we conclude that organisations are unable to support, foster, or nurture good life? Shall we not attempt to develop better organisations for better life of individuals, however small the scale? We should and we shall! We must learn from the seers and saints, who made a made a new beginning every time.