we don’t need no stinking hierarchies

When we think of management we usually think of control over others. Management decides. F.W. Taylor in the early 20th century saw management as the necessary controlling layer in order to systematize work and make it efficient and so developed his Principles of Scientific Management. If labourers could not adapt to managers’ directions, then they should be let go. Managers decide and workers carry out their wishes. The common assumption was that work cannot get done without management and that relationship must be hierarchical with managers in layers above those doing the work. But perhaps this situation is merely a lack of adequate technology?

Gwynne Dyer showed how tyranny was a requirement to organize societies that could not freely communicate on a massive scale. They lacked the technology to talk to each other and make collective decisions effectively and efficiently.

“The mass societies had many more decisions to make, and no way of making them in the old, egalitarian way. Their huge numbers made any attempt at discussing the question as equals impossible, so the only ones that survived and flourished were the ones that became brutal hierarchies. Tyranny was the solution to what was essentially a communications problem.” —Gwynne Dyer

If tyranny was the solution to a communications problem, perhaps hierarchy is as well? Without hierarchy, management becomes a coordinating function, not a directive role. Managers coordinate work and ensure it gets done. Companies like Uber have already eliminated management and instead have made the drivers slaves to the algorithm. While this is no better for individual working conditions, it shows that human managers can be massively reduced. There is no longer a requirement to link management with positional power in the organization. Algorithms can work for us just as well as they can be used against us.

So let’s use this advance in technology to create more human organizations. Eliminate managers and put management in its place: to reduce transaction costs in getting work done. This is the premise of the random organization, which is a post-management model, or more specifically a network organization with independent nodes (people) sharing power and working together in temporary, negotiated hierarchies enabled by technology. It’s pretty well a wirearchy, an organizing principle developed 20 years ago: “a dynamic two-way flow of  power and authority, based on knowledge, trust, credibility and a focus on results, enabled by interconnected people and technology”.

Now that we have the technology, we can build organizations without tyranny or permanent hierarchies.

2 Responses to “we don’t need no stinking hierarchies”

  1. Ben

    Hi Harold–I’ve enjoyed the blog for a long time now, so thanks for writing it! I’ve never worked in the kind of organization you describe above, but I can easily imagine it. When it comes to decision-making, however, how does this approach deal with firm, genuine disagreements in which two equals simply cannot come to an agreement? In a traditional workplace, as you point out, there’s someone “above” them who has final decision-making authority. How do you see this working out in the kind of org you describe?

    Reply
    • Harold Jarche

      Here is how Buurtzorg handles conflict resolution. Everyone gets trained on it as a basic work skill: “Training for new teams on: a) self-management. Home care workers are trained in the Solutions-Driven Interaction System (Laloux 2014) by Ben Wenting and Astrid Vermeer of the IVS (The Institute for Cooperative Issues). This involves topics such as group decision-making, conducting meetings, active listening, non-violent communication, conflict-resolution, and, problem solving; b) peer coaching. According to Laloux (2014: 157), at Buurtzorg, “all nurses are trained in “Intervisie”, a peer-coaching technique that originated in the Netherlands”.”

      https://medium.com/@Harri_Kaloudis/a-systematic-overview-of-the-literature-in-english-on-buurtzorg-nederland-part-b-the-buurtzorg-189a7e4704b0

      Reply

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