How do organizations emerge, cohere, and maintain themselves over time?

Forced to go remote whether they were ready or not, organizations are remembering that it takes work to create the conditions for work to happen. Shifting from central locations where individuals work together to more distributed arrangements where individuals work remotely has been a reminder that what holds organizations together is more than just a shared location.

Work takes place through organizations that are themselves acts of organizing – ways of organizing resources, people, technologies, skills, projects, and tasks. Holding all this activity together as a coherent entity takes more than just the documented organizational charts, reporting structures, strategic plans, roadmaps, assets, and obligations to shareholders and stakeholders. Organizations are always more than what’s visible – they’re the tacit forms of knowing [1] that take place constantly: the conversations, tones of voice, collaborative modes, expectations, cues of trust and belonging, collective activities, rituals, and ways of working. 

All of these features are necessary for an organization to emerge. And all of them are being reorganized by the challenge of going remote. The subtle ways something like a culture emerges in organizations will have to be adapted to a hybrid digital/physical age. Much of this organizing work will require coordinating between new tools, platforms, practices, and places – attending to the ongoing refactoring of work/place experience among employees, enabling more seamless interfacing between the digital and the physical realities of the new world of working.

Michael Polanyi, The Tacit Dimension (1966)
Published on April 27th 2021