Wednesday, 25 July 2012

What is an organisation? A Nasrudin Story

The Mullah Nasrudin stories originated as Sufi teaching tales in the Middle East. Nasrudin is the wise fool who says the unsayable, plays the fool, tricks us into seeing clearly, and turns our thinking upside down. Peter Hawkins has updated the Nasrudin stories for the world of the modern organisation and corporate advisors in "The Wise Fool's Guide to Leadership". Here is one of his stories:

A board of Directors invited Nasrudin to help them change their organization.
"What is this organization that you want me to help you to change?" enquired Nasrudin.

The Chairman produced the glossy company annual report, full of graphs and pictures of Directors shaking hands with the workers.

"So you want me to redesign this report for you?" said Nasrudin, who was always ready to help.

"No, no," interjected the Finance Director, "that is just what we tell the shareholders. Take a look at these company accounts. These will give you the real picture."

Nasrudin flicked through the pages, each full of columns and columns of figures. "So am I to understand that your organization is made up of figures, all neatly lined up in rows on paper?" he enquired.

"Not at all," replied the Operations Director. "Take a look at this organizational structure chart. This will show you how we are put together."

"I see," said Nasrudin, and the board thought that at last they would get some sense from him. "The company is made up of a series of boxes, each joined to the others by straight and dotted lines."

The Human Resources Director said, in exasperation, "All right, the organization is not the propaganda, the accounts or the written structure. I understand the point you are trying to make.
Unlike my colleagues, we in HR fully understand that the organization is really the people. If you like I will clear the car park and get all our four thousand employees out there. Then you will really see our organization:'

"So," said Nasrudin, "your organization is a large crowd, in an empty place, wondering what the hell they are doing there."

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