Article: What Organizations can learn from Nature?

Strategic HR

What Organizations can learn from Nature?

There are numerous similarities between natural processes and an organization and nature has abundant lessons to offer
What Organizations can learn from Nature?

Almost all business organizations are born with an intended life of eternity. Sometimes we term organizations as “complex adaptive system of (sub) systems”, which is also what one would think of living beings. This provokes a comparison between living beings and organizations, and organ systems of living beings seem to have a direct reflection and functional analogy in business organizations. So are there lessons for organizations to learn from nature?

Living beings as Biological System

Groups of organs work together to perform certain functions, say digestion. The composite biological systems together orchestrate the life sustaining functions of a living being. A living being may be looked at, as a complex web of intricate interdependent biological systems, carrying out myriad physical, chemical and biological processes. These processes demonstrate exemplary teamwork, signaling, communicative stimuli and response mechanisms to help achieve the harmony and balance required for wellbeing of the living organism on a sustained basis. Further, any imbalance is manifested in physical and behavioral symptoms such as a disease and calls for action.

Organizations and Living Beings

Each function/department in an organization carries out a business process, seeking to strike a fine balance with others, competing and sometimes even having conflicting priorities. The individual functions seek to nurture, nourish and grow the organization by co-coordinating, co-operating and collaborating with other internal and external elements to find the optimal path for its survival and growth. Organizations may be looked upon, as continuously evolving (Darwinian or otherwise!) living beings with dynamically interdependent functions or departments just as the organ systems and subsystems in living beings

Organization Functions as Biological Systems

Here is a point of view on visualization of different organization functions as human biological systems

  • Strategy and Marketing as Nervous System: Nervous system which includes the brain contains neurons that co- ordinate human actions by transmitting signals quickly as per impulses from endocrine and other systems adjusting to the external and internal environment. In organizations, stakeholder experience of data signals (from customers, distributors, suppliers, process owners and competitors’) serve as stimuli for actions and reflexes (responses) aimed at delivering stakeholder delight by satisfying customers, suppliers, investors and employees optimally while responding to competitors proactively. The hard element of “idea, manufacturing, product” combined with soft elements of “branding and culture” serve as a solid framework to anchor continuous reinvention of strategic marketing function with changing consumer needs and economic environment for sustenance.
  • Supply Chain, Sales and Distribution as Nervous and Circulatory System – The network of blood vessels helps carry essential nutrients to the body to help fight diseases and stabilize the body temperature. Optimized supply chain and efficient sales distribution network in an organization ensures continuous connect with suppliers, process owners, distributors and finally customers for an agile functioning organization
  • People as Respiratory or/and Endocrine System – The anatomical system of an organism that introduces respiratory gases to the interiors and performs gas exchange with lungs, has a remarkable role to connect the nervous and circulatory system. People and teams across functions within the organization must perform the critical role of collaborating and working towards singularity of purpose, accomplishing organization vision in a similar manner. It may also be argued that people work like endocrine system which regulates vital processes in the body including growth, homeostasis, metabolism, sexual development through secretion of hormones.
  • Finance as Muscular System – The muscle system allows the living being to move and provides strength, balance and posture. The availability of finance and its utilization efficiency keeps the supply chain, process and distribution network invigorated with people and teams motivated in organizations.
  • Manufacturing or Service Operations as Digestive System – A multi stage process starting with ingestion of food, mechanical and chemical decomposition, absorption of nutrients and egestion of residual material provides energy to the body. A state-of- the- art lean and agile manufacturing/delivery process with continuous improvement initiatives sponsored by leadership team enabled by distribution and supply chain is central to existence of any organization.
  • Organization and Design as a Skeletal System – The skeletal system containing spinal chord, bones, tendons, cartilage and ligaments serve as a scaffold to protect all the organs of the body. In the same vein, organization design, physical/virtual attributes provide the space and forum for employees, customers, suppliers and other stakeholders.

Nature through its evolution of hundreds of millions of years of history has bestowed a remarkably fascinating and intricate communication and feedback mechanism amongst organ systems in living beings. The organ systems are deeply intertwined and interdependent which cannot be physically or logically isolated in a living being. They are built- in with physical, chemical, biological and other complex entities with attributes that protects the living beings from all external/internal threats during its life, which may be very hard if not impossible to replicate in an organization built by humble humans.

Does the similarity end there?

The physical strength of living beings is primarily defined by the health of their biological systems, and living beings have a defined “life” which is determined by the presence of “spirit”, or “consciousness” while mere absence of it, renders them dead. It appears that entire play of biological systems is meant to serve the “spirit” of the living beings.

In human built organizations, the “spirit” or “consciousness” is crafted by the “People, Leadership and Teams” who lend their talent, passion, creativity, risk taking abilities and accumulated achievements to define and accomplish super ordinate goals, commonly defined as “Mission” or “Purpose”. To enable an organization to live a potentially eternal life, it is imperative that “Purpose” or “Mission” of the organization be continuously defined, redefined and tailored to address the markets, served by relevant products, processes, channels and technology with a coherent strategy and aligned culture.

Organizations and functional teams may like to learn singularity of purpose, teamwork and deep synchronicity of interdependent organ systems in living beings for sustenance and eternal longevity!

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Topics: Strategic HR, #BestPractices

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