Organizations: Meet the Peons

Yesterday, I talked about the power centers of an organization. But where there are concentrations of power, there are also absences. In the lower ranks, everyone has two things in common: being in the organization, and having someone to answer to. The rest, there’s plenty of room for variation on.

A lot of people tend not to detail out the grunts in an organization. As they see it, it’s like drawing leaves on a tree; there’s no need to outline every single leaf if you can just suggest clumps, right? But even with that, it can pay to have a vague idea what you’re dealing with beyond a uniform and a general standardized appearance, even if it’s more “This group has this set of characteristics, this group has this set.” So what sorts of things might help describe the grunts?

Why are they here? Do they want to be here? These questions are close to inextricably intertwined, with the former feeding into and justifying the latter. Financial need, interest in the skills to be learned there, lack of an alternative, the chance to work with a friend, family pressure—there are a lot of reasons for people to end up in an organization.

Who were they before they joined the organization? Is there a predominant socioeconomic class, geographic region, shared language, something that ties them together? Or are they more of a patchwork, picked up from a bunch of different stations because of some other unifying factor of the organization?

What are they for? This is sort of like asking why they’re here, only from the organization’s standpoint rather than the individual’s. There’s got to be a reason why these people were brought in and why they’re kept in the organization; what is it? What do they contribute? Is it the same thing they think they contribute, or is there some sort of disconnect between the grunts’ view and the leadership’s view?

How do they get along with those above them? The easy way to divide this up is, of course, by boss; some supervisors get along well with people under them, some don’t, some aren’t even trying, some are trying to do anything but. On the other hand, for people who are interested in a little more detail, there’s subgroups within that, depending on which of the boss’s qualities people are reacting to and how.

What sort of motion are they looking into? Some people might be stopping into the organization as a stepping stone to something else they want to do more; others trying to rise within the ranks. Still others are just fine where they are, and then there are the ones who just want to get out.

What distinctions do they create between people in the organization and people not? Is there an in-group/out-group thing going? If so, what sorts of ties is it based around; is this one of those “they wouldn’t get it, they’ve never had to deal with this” unities, more of a “we belong to x group, we are better off” deal, something else? Common goals and situations have a tendency to create ties between those who have them and barriers between those who do and those who don’t.

Thinking about these will give you grunts that aren’t just a uniform and a designation. It’s not much, but it’s the little details that give the world dimension. Give it a shot!

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