EthioPoint: Ethiopians Analysis | Research Articles

A thing or two about organizations

13 mins read

By Tadesse Nigatu 

“Organization is simply the means by which the acts of ordinary men and women can be made to add up to extraordinary results. To this idea of progress that does not wait on some lucky break, some chance discovery, or some rare stroke of genius, but instead is achieved through systematic, cumulative efforts that individuals have contributed.”

                                                                                                            William Wickenden                                                                                                                         

            Here is my take. What is yours?         

By their nature organizations are tools for co-operation. Our distant ancestors –Hunters and Gatherers- figured that out at the beginning of time, when they realized that what they couldn’t hunt alone they could do it cooperating with each other.  Back then, they also found out that for cooperation to continue, each member in the cooperation would get a fair share of what had been achieved together. That is to say that one would not get too much at the expense of the other.


Organizations evolve. Overtime, co-operations evolved and took all kinds of different forms including family, clan, and religious, professional, political, nations etc. The evolution of organizations may have started with family. Then, many families networked to form clans, clans networked to form nationalities, many nationalities networked to form nations and so on. No matter how big an organization was, the building blocks of the organization are the individuals. As the individual members become enlightened through experience, education, economic and social activities, so did the organizations they formed became mature and efficient.

Organizations possess power.  Since organizations bring many individuals including their knowledge and resources, together they are power houses. That is, when compared to individuals, organizations are much more powerful. There is a saying related to this fact: “a team of two can order thousands of unorganized”. The nature of organizations also dictates that there be division of responsibility among members. This is because have to perform different functions to stay alive.

Organizations have vulnerability. The power that organizations possess and the division of responsibility in them, allow the concentration of power in few hands and make organizations vulnerable for abuse. We repeatedly observe or hear this inherent vulnerability when individuals or small groups in an organization abuse the responsibility they took for their personal (or group) gain. In some worst cases, the whole power of the organization concentrated on the hands of one individual. This is the reason why dictatorship emerges. In this case most of the power of the organization is applied to stay in that position and guard the individual’s or small group’s interest for ever.  Of course they make all kinds of excuse! Transparency and freedom in organizations are the only means that can rescue citizens from dictators.  By the way, this can happen in any organization, big or small.

 Co-operation and competition:  It is widely common to see co-operation and competition within and between organizations. In fact co-operation and competition have inseparable dialectical relationship. There is tension between the purpose of the organization that drives towards common interest (unity) and specific interests of the individuals who agreed to co-operate.  So co-operation and competition are different faces of the same thing. The tension provides the dynamics and energy that the organization needs to keep moving. But it needs to be balanced and contained within the overall goal of the organization. Competition among members for better ideas, operational procedures or to be inclusive of diverse interests etc. can bring the best out of an organization. That is, if freedom, respect, care and fairness are the mode of operation. If competition is not handled in a constructive way it can weaken or even threaten the existence of the organization.

Competition between different organizations: The existence of competing organizations when the reason for their existence (their purpose) is closely similar is puzzling and negates the concept of organization as a tool of co-operation. Social scientists do not have a good answer for this puzzle yet. However, if the different organizations have compatible objectives, those organizations should make serious efforts to network and work together to achieve what is common to them all. Competing among themselves can only weaken all of them and make their goals unachievable.  Especially those organizations which work for good governance and the eradication of poverty, cannot afford not to co-operate. These are serious undertakings which require the co-operation of millions. The question is: Do those organizations who could not find common denominator among them really want to bring millions together to effect the change they want or do they just want to exist in there silos of 500 individuals?

Success builds on success. Organizations are tools to achieve purposes. Developing clear purpose, and then breaking it down into achievable levels is key. Success is built on a previous success. They say success breeds success. Breaking the big purpose into achievable smaller goals (purposes) and achieving them will pave the way for the next success. It is unrealistic to expect to achieve a big success at once before achieving small ones.

Organizations are as good as their members and the rules of engagement they apply while working towards their purpose.  As mentioned above, successful organizations are those which have clear and achievable goals. Unrealistic goals are not only unachievable, they also kill members’ morale and distance away would be new supporters.

The rules of engagement among members are critical too. If the rules of engagement among members do not involve caring and respecting each other, being honest tolerant, and hard work, it will be hard to build a meaningful organization that achieves a goal. The contribution of the whole membership can become more than the sum of the member’s contributions only if each and every member engages with other fellow members according the simple rules of decency. When every member follow them then the organization will automatically follow them and decency becomes the norm not the exception. It this type of organizations that will achieve democracy. The simple rule of decency are:

·          Work Hard                             Earn your living by your sweat and void what is not yours

·          Seek the truth                        Seek knowledge, experiment, reason with facts, Teach, learn

·          Be Patriotic                             Love your people and country, be generous and helpful

·          Be Fair                                     Serve justice, treat with equality, be honest

·          Respect                                    Be respectful to people, their rights and the environment

·          Seek Peace                              Be tolerant, resolve conflict peacefully

·          Pursue Happiness                 Be happy,  Enjoy life, have fun


A good country can only be built by good organizations which themselves are built by millions of good people. And people are as good as the values they hold. Good values emanate from actions that are guided by repeated use of the right (simple) rules. Let’s make these simple rules our mantra. They can for sure help us win over poverty and tyranny!