Following a rule means applying a general instruction to a situation. Without such instructions organisations would not exist, in fact, they would not even form in the first place. Rules create expectation certainty and with it, the possibility to coordinate actions and communication. The cohesion of organisations rests substantially on a system of rules which requires validity. With this, it is irrelevant whether such rules have been written down and are thus explicit, or whether everyone knows them and they are implicitly effective. The problem with rules is that they cannot regulate when they are to be applied. Whether the current situation is one which is within the jurisdiction of a rule and should be worked on in accordance with the rule, remains a decision – i.e. a decision as to whether the rule must be applied or not! Organisations, thus, cannot avoid developing a ‘rule observation competence’.
It must be assumed that the acting people in the organisation have an interest in adhering to the rules. This is less trivial than it seems, and there is a plethora of philosophical efforts around this subject. In psychodynamics, we assume that a fundamental reason lies within the need for security. People don’t stick to the rules primarily for fear of sanctions, but rather, to avoid insecurity. They also carry the potential for breaking the rules because, at the same time, they have a need for freedom. For organisations to maintain rules that are sufficiently stable and, simultaneously, flexible, both are necessary, as thus they can operate in accordance with the situation.