CollaborationSustainability_Ven_DiagramMetals are strong; they have a tensile strength matched by few other elements. Metals also rust, break, and when they do it it is often devastating.  A living system on the other hand is self-renewing and self-sustaining.  Not many static materials embody these properties.  The self-sustaining/renewing property of living organisms metaphorically translates to an organization’s ability to adapt while existing within a larger environment.  Then why do organizations not favor the view of organizations as living organisms given the adaptive properties? Stewart and Bennett (1991, pg121) in American Cultural Patterns write since the construction of the first assembly line the dominant culture has relied on technical fixes for many of its issues.

I would agree technical fixes are effective in static or controlled environments however these fixes break down in the ever-changing business environment.  The issue with technical fixes in human systems is people are feeling, relational, and changing. Often social issues are not dealt with because of the patches upon patches of technical fixes.  Treating people as if they were machines propagates negative emotions and defensive behaviors over time.  If unresolved this will depreciate the group’s ability to maintain a positive working relationship and as a result the ability to execute tasks. (Schwarz, 2002)  If an organization reduces the strength of relationships by treating their employees like machines they sacrifice their ability to complete goals and make profit.

An organization, which does not balance the internal and external forces,  doesn’t stand a chance of surviving for long.  This is why collaboration is so important because it is a process that gives organizations the ability to adapt to their environment and respond to issues before they threaten to end the life of the organization.

Cells die in our body everyday however as a person we can maintain a sustainable lifestyle until our passing. In organizations people come and go, projects cease, and practices are replaced.  Then what is sustainability?  For me it is a flexible way of living, being, and thriving that does not sacrifice my future ability to live, be, and thrive.

This article is part of a larger series entitled The Anatomy of Collaboration

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