Random Thoughts on Organizational Behavior


Leadership is not a function of titles and formal positions.  Instead, it defined by the nature of the relationships between people.  A leader cannot exist independent from other people.  Leaders create their roles through their relationships with their followers; likewise, followers determine their roles through their relationship with the leader.  The leader and the follower both create a particular relationship, and so inhabit certain roles.  Leadership, therefore, cannot be forced upon people, whether by rank or power.  A tyrant may exercise power over people, but does not lead them.


Outsourcing is usually defined as an organization's ridding itself of non-core tasks and contracting them out to experts.  Those tasks will then be undertaken by people with who are now formally outside the organizational boundaries.  This is usually thought to be a good thing.  But if we change our vantage point, we can see that it creates a host of problems.

Organizations usually think of themselves in terms tasks, functions, and processes.  Inputs and outputs.  If my output is "X", then anything that doesn't directly contribute to "X" should be contracted out so the organization can focus on its core competencies.  This is standard business practice nowadays. 

But it is possible to view organizations not as a collection of tasks, functions and processes, but as a collection of relationships and communications channels.  Organizations have boundaries.  Within the organization, communication is easy.  But communications through the boundaries becomes difficult. 

Cells have boundaries.  These boundaries are semi-permeable membranes.  Certain molecules can get through, while others cannot.  Organizational boundaries function the same way.  When functions are outsourced, they are placed outside the organizational boundaries.  Henceforth relationships are difficult, and communications about these functions must take place through specific channels and in specific formats.  Communications which do not meet these criteria are discarded or returned to the sender.  Thus the organization limits its ability to control the manner in which the function is performed.

On many Air Force bases the maintenance of the grounds has been outsourced to private contractors.  This frees up personnel to perform their primary function instead of cutting grass.  This then allows the Air Force to reduce the numbers of personnel, as they no longer perform as many peripheral duties.  But what happens when an inspection team is due, but the grass hasn't been cut?  People are sent out to police the grounds; it is easier to command people from within the organizational than to go outside the organizational boundary and try to change the groundskeeping schedule.

In many hospitals the blood banks are run by the Red Cross.  And why not?  After all, they are the experts, and it saves the organization from having its own people performing that function.  But it also removes an element of control.  If the hospital needs to draw blood at times inconvenient for the Red Cross, the Red Cross can tell them no and make it stick.  If the Red Cross conducts itself in an efficient but low touch manner, the hospital has no say in the matter.  By sacrificing their authority over the process, the hospital gave up a measure of control over not only the process itself, but the manner in which the process is carried out.