What is an Organization?

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    Consulting and Organization Development - Book Cover

    © Copyright Carter McNamara, MBA, PhD, Authenticity Consulting, LLC.

    This Article is in a Series About Understanding Organizational Structures and Design

    This article is the first in the series which includes:

    1. What is an Organization?
      2. What Makes Each Organization Unique
      3. How They’re the Same: They’re Systems
      4. Basic Overview of Life Cycles in Organizations
      5. Basic Overview of Organizational Culture
      6. Legal Forms and Traditional Structures of Organizations
      7. Driving Forces and a New Organizational Paradigm
      8. Emerging Nature and New Organizational Structures and Design
      9. Basic Guidelines for Organizational Design
      10. Wrap Up: Grasping the Big Picture in Organizations (video)

    Sections of This Article Include

    Basic Definition

    Most of us have worked in an organization of people — even a family is a type of organization. The word is so widely used that its meaning can sometimes be lost. The word means a collection of resources that are working together somehow to achieve a common purpose. When we talk about an organization, we are usually referring to a group of people.

    Organizations of people come in many forms. They might be a random group of people who spontaneously came together to address a short-term need, such as collecting litter along a certain stretch of road. Or, it might be a carefully collected, aligned, and integrated group of people who came together for the long term to address a long-term need, such as stopping poverty in a certain country.

    An overall organization can have a variety of small organizations within it, for example, various departments and teams of people. The way that people work together in an organization depends on a variety of factors, including the values in their culture, the nature of their leadership, and the types of current needs they are working to address. See What Makes Each Organization Unique.

    Let us look at some other definitions of the word “organization” and some more about how an organization works toward a common purpose.

    Organization’s Purpose and Priorities


    All of the people in an organization should be working toward a common purpose. That purpose is often referred to as the mission. The mission might be implied to its members or explicitly expressed to them.
    When explicitly expressed, it is often in the form of a mission statement. The statement is often reviewed during a process called strategic planning.


    The organization’s vision is an image of what success would look like at some point in the future, both
    for the people that the organization serves and for the organization itself. It can be very inspirational and motivational to explicitly articulate that vision in a statement like the mission statement during strategic planning.


    The organization’s values are the overall priorities in the nature of how the organization wants to work
    toward its mission. Values can be reflected in how the people in the organization are actually working together. These might be referred to as real or enacted values. Values can also be about how the organization wants its members to work together. These might be referred to as desired values.

    Strategic Priorities

    These are the overall, most important matters and activities for members to attend to when working toward the mission. Similar to the mission, vision, and values, they might be implied or explicit among members. The priorities might be associated with assignments for who is addressing which ones and by when. The priorities are often referred to as “strategic goals” during a strategic planning process.

    Thus, it could seem to be a major challenge when working to lead, manage or improve an organization. Fortunately, there are some things in common with all types of organizations — because they all are systems. We will review more about systems later in this series of articles.

    Learn More in the Library’s Blogs Related to Organizations

    In addition to the information on this current page, see the following blogs which have posts related to organizations. Scan down the blog’s page to see various posts. Also, see the section “Recent Blog Posts” in the sidebar of the blog or click on “Next” near the bottom of a post in the blog.

    For the Category of Organizational Development:

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