no organization is an island

Organizations are alive when people can exert their autonomy in ethical practice. This aligns with self-determination theory, which puts forward three basic needs for people: competence, autonomy, and relatedness. Even progressive organizations often miss out on the latter, described by the authors as an, “inherent tendency toward growth development and integrated functioning”. It takes more than a simple organizational structure to afford this relatedness. The organization also must be alive.

So in what way are human organisations alive? Fritjof [Capra] answers this question by saying that a human organisation is only alive when it contains networks of communication. These informal networks of communication he refers to as communities of practice and in larger organisations there are clusters of communities of practice. Therefore for Fritjof “the aliveness of an organisation resides in its communities of practice, flexibility, creativity and learning potential”. —Transition Consciousness

Staying focused on work, even if workers are autonomous and competent, is not enough for human, and organizational growth. There must be continuous communication that promotes relatedness. This happens in communities of practice and social networks. Supporting communities of practice should be the primary focus of HR departments, as this is where ‘human capital’ really can develop. In addition, individuals need to connect outside the organizational walls. Even an Enterprise Social Network will not help with this. But if an organization is to be truly alive, it must be connected, through its people, to the ecosystem in which it lives. No organization is an island.


No Man is an Island

No man is an island entire of itself; every man
is a piece of the continent, a part of the main;
if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe
is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as
well as any manner of thy friends or of thine
own were; any man’s death diminishes me,
because I am involved in mankind.
And therefore never send to know for whom
the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.

– John Donne, Meditation XVII (modern English)

2 thoughts on “no organization is an island”

  1. Human capital and social capital (our relationships and relatedness) complement each other… they develop and grow together.

    Yes, it is not islands and independence, it is intersections and interdependence that makes the modern organization effective.

  2. “Paraphrasing John Donne, our results show that “no system or organization is an island” in the troubled sea of modern resource-scarce and technologically empowered environments.”


    “Quality Indicators for Collective Systems Resilience,” Emergence: Complexity & Organization, ISSN: 1521-3250, Vol. 16, No. 3, September 2014, pp. 65-104.


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