Organizations as Organisms

Organizations are not just a working machine that functions for its own benefit without regard to the environment, but should be viewed as living systems that are comprised of smaller units that work inter-dependently to create a whole organism, or in other words, an organization. The military and the orchestra are two examples of distinct entities that can be viewed as an “open system” that is distinctive in that in order to survive, it must depend on its environment and interact with its own sub systems or units in order to survive. Sub units can be seen as aspects of an organization that contribute to its working parts. When looking to the environment for survival, resources that are deemed necessary, such as money, people, or the community, we see this as an open system since an organization’s interactions with its sub units will depend on its survival. This paper intends to provide that organizations, such as the military and the orchestra are different organization, but relate in that they can relate as a living system and both depend on its environment for survival while at the same time prove its distinct difference prove productive on how they obtain their needed resources.

The military is considered a basic-economic system, an “Eco system” comprised of different basic units with its own labor source that works towards the overall goal of creating a military “aggregate soldier” that can exceed the addition of all subunits to create a bigger entity that impacts the world. The military is a unique organism but at the same time, its size and force can work against it. The military unit is a continuous force of input and output that drives on the economic resources it needs to produce its domestic product, a ready military force. This constant need can sometimes create a burden because our society allows a voluntary source; by creating a constitutional duty that is seen vital, the military mandates a period of time for people to serve to help produce that economic resource. The military relies on the external economic environment to provide resources to create its domestic product and depending upon the stability of the environment, the military’s performance may be hindered due to reduce combat capability as well as the member’s personal consumer society. In order for the military to be a true productive force, the ingrained economic laws in which society follow that govern life and activity are used by each unit to determine the effectiveness each subunit can provide. Labor efficiency is done by upgrading logistical and technical equipment capability, ensuring every member is qualified, raising economic awareness to reduce waste, fostering cohesion and teamwork, as well as investigating other national and foreign units to develop a cohesive, economically sound team (Federov, 2001).
Like the military, the orchestra can also be system a similar organism with subunits that comprise the unit as a whole. It has complex interdependent subsystems that cause the orchestra to rely on its economic environment for its survival. An orchestra runs like an organization in terms distinct job function boundaries, the orchestra itself, staff, board members, and volunteers. These systems may be broken down further by departments within each job function. The orchestra relies heavily on the external environment for income through ticket sales and contributions to support the orchestra’s “personnel intensive” asset needs. To help the support the orchestra, marketing advertises concerts to generate income as well through record sales. To promote the environment’s love for music, members are reaching out to their community with music education in hopes that the community will provide inputs. Another issue is not in the form of economic need, but a person’s quality of life that music brings. It is an intangible asset to consider in terms of the impact on the community, the community’s economy and the value added. Measuring an intangible asset is hard, but looking at the community as a whole and the stability of an orchestra’s economic input-process-output stability can give a better indication Roelofs, 2005).
The military and an orchestra are similar in terms of a living system in that they both have relationships with its smaller units and is an integrated whole. The military is a single whole process where each military member creates a unit that in turn produces a systemic effect. These individual units build and each section produces an effect that when in combination, creates a military force that can create a large labor force in a limited space. Relationships are formed through cohesiveness, a common sense of duty, and an understanding of economic expectation of labor outputs. The orchestra also consists of systems and subsystems that work to create the orchestra as a whole. Subsystems consist of board members that work to obtain contributions for the orchestra, staff, volunteers, and the musicians themselves. Both the military and the orchestra are seen as a whole unit as the military impacts the entire globe. The military combat warring nations to protect communities and serve as ambassadors to other nations to build friendships and strengthen units to ensure longevity. The orchestra work to provide music to communities to build a sense of pride and unity and establish themselves with people. Every system has its autonomy and function; managers work through systematic processes within its own logic and how the organization reacts to situations. By treating organizations as a living system, managers cooperate and try to build partnership for sustainability (Capra, 1996).
Looking at an orchestra and the military in terms of a systems approach, there are some important differences in the way it functions for the environment. Both parties function in that they each are developed through sub units with its own interdepartmental system and how they work to support the overall whole unit, but one can look at the orchestra as its own subunit of the organization whereas the military is still just considered the whole of an organization. With an orchestra, one can be found in almost every community and each one works to support itself to provide music to the community and the various programs it provides. Each organization may run a little differently, budgets and contributions will vary and each orchestra’s depth will vary; its output will be based on what their own individual organization wants to deliver. With the military, the sub units as a whole works towards a common goal set by the organization. Its living systems are predetermined on how they will exist and to what function. The goal is a two-fold process, how do we become the best technologically and maintain the skill set needed through the economic boundaries set forth and how do we create a sustaining mindset within thousands of individuals to understand we are a living system as one? Each organization is common in that they require an open system of resources for sustenance but each is different in their output.
All things can be considered living systems, take TUIU for example. TUIU can be looked at as a whole unit because it is a university organization with different subunits that make up the sum of the whole part. Like a human body, students are like cells that create different organs and tissue. The tissue can be seen as the classes offered to the cells, like food to exist within the subunit. The organs are each department of the university that takes in all the cells and refers it to various parts for answers and needed functions. The whole university functions as the brain, which needs all parts to help function. TUIU becomes a social system when students come together for a common purpose and have mutual interaction and focuses on the basic principles of what they are trying to accomplish. If students fail to interact, processes begin to dissect.
As we discussed living systems in comparison to the orchestra and the military, how could we put this in terms for a new organizational member? An organization is considered a living system when you look at the autonomy each department has is accomplishing the processes to reach goals. Managers take in the logic and emotions of the organization’s mission and implement ways to influence its employees to create ways to make processes better, faster, and cheaper as a way to empower them and be committed to the organization by cultivating what is important to them (Capra,1996). Even though many see an organization as a living system, how can we relate it to a machine? Organizations are a relationship that persists over time, as does a well-running machine. Members that work machines (inter-departments) must anticipate changes that a machine may need as the environment changes since information is the food that drives it. The levers (people) take signals from the environment and bring the data forward to modify the organization’s actions. For example, your organization is marketing a new shoe. You decide to do a marketing analysis through random cities that are selling the shoe (feedback loop) and your levers (people in the organization) are providing the feedback signals to the machine (inter-departments) to determine the changes needed to modify in relation to the change in environment to market new changes to the shoe (Flower, 1995).
The military and the orchestra are but two examples on how anyone can break down an organization in a living system, a whole unit with sub units that relate and interconnect in order to support being a whole unit. The wholeness of a unit comes from its social system, the community or ecosystems. The military is unique in that it survives not only on the technology and economic resources it is given, but the global need for protection and people who feels it’s their constitutional duty to serve those people. The orchestra is also unique in that its survival completely rest on their community. Music is a way to bring communities together but its resources must come from those same people to survive; inter-departments work together in order to support the orchestra as a whole. Another concept viewed is how an organization or an organism can function as a machine. The environment acts as the feedback loop and uses the organization’s levers to provide signal for change. The environment is the driver of change and organisms, us, must learn from our past in order to adapt to the changing environment and function as a whole unit.

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Fedorov, G.S. (2001) The Military Unit as Part of the Armed Forces’ Economic System . Military Thought . July. Retrieved May 18, 2009, from
Flower, J. (1995) The Structure Of Organized Change: A conversation with Kevin Kelly. The Healthcare Forum Journal, vol. 38, no. 1, January/February 1995. Retrieved May 18, 2009, from
Roelofs, L. (N.D.) Organizational Change: Open System Concepts. Symphony Orchestra Institute. Retrieved May 18, 2009, from