Organizations for Masochists


“Thinking about it the other day, I realized that some of my unhappiest moments have been in organizations. Someh0w it seems to be quite respectable to do things in organizations which you would never do in private life. I have had people insult me to my face in front of my colleagues. I have had my feelings rammed down my throat on the pretext that it would do me good and have been required to do things which I didn’t agree with because the organization wished it.

“And then there are all those games which organizations play, the political battles over what we can spend, who works for whom, or who sits where or is paid what. If, like me, you’re not very good at fighting for your own corner, you can end up sitting in the little room at the end of a corridor, wondering what they’re talking about in those meetings you weren’t invited to, simmering with resentment and hurt.

“In my worst moments I have thought that organizations were places designed to be run by sadists and staffed by masochists — and I’m not just talking about business, some of these things happened in the holiest of places with the nicest people. Why is it, I wonder, that 90 percent of us choose to work in these odd communities if we have the choice? Why does it sometimes have to be so awful?

“Well, it doesn’t have to be like that. The best organizations to be in, it seems, are the busiest ones as long as they are being busy for someone else. The worst are those obsessed with their own innards.

“…The healthiest organizations are those which exist for others, not for themselves. Show me a business or a school or a church that is preoccupied with its customers or clients, determined to do its best for them and not just for the sake of surviving, and I’ll bet you that they don’t have time for too many committees, for forms, for politicking or for nitpicking about mistakes. Those are the organizations that are fun to be in, which give you room to be yourself, to express yourself, to grow.

“…It may sound odd for a professor of business to say this, but I reckon that our organizations could do with a good deal more loving, a bit more forgiveness, and a lot more faith in other people. Such things, however, in organizations as in life, are possible only if we feel we are in the grip of something bigger than ourselves and so can lose ourselves in others.

“‘Where there is no vision the people perish,’ said the psalmist. Quite so. And organizations too.”  – Charles Handy, Waiting for the Mountain to Move

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