Can organizations still function if we dismantle hierarchies?
In the social imperative, Jay Cross asked me how can organizations restructure in order to deal with complexity. In other words, how can they loosen hierarchical (direct) control and strengthen network (indirect) control?
“So essentially, we need to rely on others (via networks) to thrive above the midline of Verna’s chart, but we must become flexible in order to deal with the left hand side. Dave Snowden implies that mistaking the left for the right is fatal, since they require different responses.
Harold, is this a tipping point phenomenon or can organizations dismantle bureaucracy incrementally? What drives the lessening of top-down control to enable the flex to deal with the increasingly complex world?”
Last year I suggested a re-working of F.W. Taylor’s principles of scientific management (1911), which still seems to drive most organizational structures.
It is only through enforced standardization of methods, enforced adoption of the best implements and working conditions, and enforced cooperation that this faster work can be assured. And the duty of enforcing the adoption of standards and enforcing this cooperation rests with management alone.
My alternative is called the principle of networked unmanagement:
It is only through innovative and contextual methods, the self-selection of the most appropriate tools and work conditions, and willing cooperation that more productive work can be assured. The duty of being transparent in our work and sharing our knowledge rests with all workers.
Breaking this paragraph down shows the fundamental changes necessary to shift the dominant organizational model toward looser hierarchies and stronger networks.
1. innovative & contextual methods = work and jobs cannot be standardized, which means getting rid of job descriptions and individual performance appraisals.
2. self-selection of tools = moving away from enterprise tools toward an open platform in which workers can use their own tools in order to be knowledge artisans.
3. willing cooperation = lessening the emphasis on teamwork and collaboration and encouraging wider cooperation. This is the essence of silo-busting.
4. duty of being transparent = shifting from ‘need to know’ to ‘need to share’ especially for those with leadership responsibilities. This is probably the biggest change for organizations today.
5. sharing our knowledge = changing the environment so that sharing one’s knowledge does not put that person in a weaker organizational position. For example, rewarding individuals for ideas, such as patent royalty sharing, means that sharing information could lead to another person benefiting from what you have shared. Rewarding the organization (network) is better than rewarding the individual, but only if people feel empowered and can be actively engaged in decision-making.
Walls can come down one brick at a time in some kind of orderly fashion, or they can suddenly collapse. Given the challenges of the network era, with hyper-connected markets and competitors, it might be best to get started on those walls now.