The soul of an organization


The Soul of the Ant by Eugène Marais is still fascinating reading today, ninety years after it was published in 1934.

In the shadow of Eugène Marais’ in-depth analysis of termite colonies, we continue to discover new insights into the composition and functioning of complex systems – not only in nature, but also in our daily work environments.

Regardless of whether the termite is a worker or soldier, the “group soul” enables the colony to function as a unit where each has its specific place and task. The individual termites work together in a highly organized system that coordinates each member’s actions for the greater good of the colony as a whole. Marais’s description of a collective consciousness, which he calls the “group soul”, offers a striking metaphor for the core of every organization’s identity.

Like termites in a colony, each member of an organization has a unique role that contributes to the success of the whole. Organizations like ZZ2 utilize this concept effectively by modeling themselves as a living, open system that not only creates value for all stakeholders, but also remains adaptable and resilient in the face of changing circumstances.

The poet DJ Opperman, in his poem “Contrak”, also reinforces the idea of ​​a common endeavor that goes beyond the individual contribution; every act of every individual contributes to a greater whole. God creatively “opened the world to cave and gramadoola”, but the work of creation is continued by the natural forces of “leaf and reed”, the “chisel point of the river” and the humble labor of ant “carrying sticks”.

Stick by stick, through the small hasty step of the working ant, contour lines of landscapes are slowly but irrevocably reshaped. Without the common “group soul” that binds a community or colony together, the colony would hardly be able to exist as a unit or work together or survive. This collective effort is a powerful instrument of change, through which even the smallest actions contribute to the formation of our landscapes and communities.

In the biblical context, the soul (Hebrew: “nefesh”; Greek: “psykhē”) is considered the essence of life and identity. Augustine, one of the greatest theologians of early Christianity, had a profound and influential position on the soul. His views on the soul were mainly set forth in his works such as Confessions (Confessions) and De Civitate Dei (The City of God). The soul underlies man’s moral responsibility and ethical decision-making. It enables man to choose between good and evil. Self-awareness and self-knowledge are for Augustine integral aspects of the soul. For him, deep introspection and knowledge of one’s own soul is essential for a deeper understanding of God and growth in faith.

Calvin’s spiritual and moral view of the soul found strong connection with Augustine. According to Calvin, the soul is inherently corrupted by sin as a result of the fall, but it can be saved and renewed by the grace of God through faith in Jesus Christ. The soul is not only a part of man. The soul is that which binds all the parts of man into a unity and gives it life. It is a deep-rooted consciousness, the source of life force, the invisible breath that permeates it and gives it a unique identity.

In a time when all things – people, cultures, organizations, communities – are often reduced to their smallest parts, it is essential to rediscover and nurture the group soul. The soul is life-giving “breath” that you cannot see, but that you can sense. Some call it the atmosphere of a place, but essentially the soul of an organization refers to the identity or character of an organization that is cultivated by core values ​​and organizational culture.

The soul of an organization is a deep-rooted ethos that underpins an organization’s decision-making processes, which determines how employees and customers are treated and how the organization pursues its goals. The soul of an organization is essentially what makes it unique above and beyond its products, services or market position. The soul of an organization breaks through all silos, self-interest and self-respect by always putting the interest of the greater whole first.

John Calvin

Can an organization lose its soul? Easy. Without a group soul, an organization can lose its raison d’être, direction and purpose. When it is said that an organization has “lost its soul”, it means that the organization has deviated from its raison d’être, core values ​​and principles. This metaphor indicates a loss of identity, integrity, or purpose that originally defined the character and ethos of the organization. This often implies that the organization has focused more on profits, bureaucracy, or other external successes at the expense of its founding ideals, ethical standards, and commitment to its stakeholders.

When an organization loses its soul, it leads to a removal of the original reason for existence and a deterioration in organizational culture, which can potentially affect employee morale and public perception. The group soul is fragile and must be taken into protection. It must be nurtured and deepened through development. It must be visible in thought and action and guide all activities. It determines what an organization says yes and no to. This requires sensitivity and an awareness of what defines an organization’s identity in the deepest sense.

So, in the words of Marais and with a look at the complexities of modern organizational dynamics, we must not only make plans with our heads, but also care with our hearts and work with our hands. However, it is through the soul of an organization that we truly live and thrive. This requires an ongoing commitment to the core values ​​that define the organization’s unique character, and a sustained effort to protect and promote the soul that binds us together.