28 April 2009

Cluetrainplus10: The Fall of the Pyramids

To celebrate the 10th anniversary of The Cluetrain Manifesto, 95 bloggers will each select one of the 95 theses, and post their reflections, 10 years on, in a global collaboration called Cluetrainplus10.

Thesis 49: Org charts worked in an older economy where plans could be fully understood from atop steep management pyramids and detailed work orders could be handed down from on high.

It is not at all surprising to me that many organizations still adhere to the quaint idea that top-down decomposition of objectives and goals will actually determine what each individual in the organization should endeavour to accomplish. That those who have managed to attain certain job titles (through means that often have more to do with personality, politics, prestige, privilege, and power than intelligence, insight, or competence) can uniquely determine the optimal course for an organization. That information must be withheld except on a “need to know basis” and carefully controlled that, of course, necessitates the previous two quaint notions.

For those who construct their identities in terms of external signifiers of prestige, privilege and power, the top-down planning, the pyramidal org chart, the Tayloristic myth that “thinkers” shouldn’t do, and “doers” shouldn’t think, are well worth preserving. These are the basis of business education and the vaunted MBA designation, after all. But for organizations that intend to be consistent with the way the world is, rather than the Industrial Age, it is long past time to rethink the nature of organization itself, and recognize that a generation growing up in world in which we have always been networked, will network itself in the workplace as well. Rather than retain the disconnection between a quaint conception of the workplace and the reality of the world, organizations that realign themselves with the complex, Ubiquitously Connected and Pervasively Proximate (UCaPP) dynamics that define the 21st century are far more effective in accomplishing whatever their goals and objectives might be, and are far more humanistic and responsible about doing it. Simply put, collaboration is the name of the contemporary game, and collaboration and bureaucracy are mutually exclusive.

There are consequences, of course, in transforming an organization from more-BAH to more-UCaPP, and these consequences are significantly disruptive. The transformation cannot be accomplished over a “planning cycle” – those organizations that have accomplished this challenge do so over three to six years, the time it takes to resocialize all of us who take Bureaucracies, Administrative controls and Hierarchies as “just the way people are,” human nature, if you will. (On the other hand, going the other way – say a start-up operating with UCaPP behaviours becoming BAH – can happen in mere months.)

From my research, and book chapter I recently wrote on A Brief, 3,000-Year History of Organization, here is a comparison chart to help you decide whether your organization might like to discard the now-anachronistic org chart – and its consequences – for something a bit more contemporary:

BAH OrganizationsUCaPP Organizations
Organizations are primarily purposeful; all other considerations are secondary to the mission and economic considerations.Organizations are primarily relational, with the purpose, mission, and tactility being emergent from the relationships among the specific people and organizations that comprise the membership.
Organizations have well-defined boundaries.Organizations are contingent and constantly in flux; the constituents at any time depend on the context.
Costs are externalized as much as possible.Costs are, by definition, internal to the organization via f-Economic valence, and therefore must be completely and collectively accounted for.
People are interchangeable so long as they have appropriate qualifications; the “office” or function sustains. Multiple offices potentially can be combined or divided differently with no deleterious effect on the overall operations.People, by definition, cannot be interchangeable since replacing or eliminating individuals changes the nature of the valence relationships, and therefore, changes the organization.
Individual humanity (e.g., expressed by one’s direct superior) scales to collective callousness (e.g., expressed organization-wide, often in the name of efficiency, expediency, or fairness).Individual humanity scales consistently through feedback and feedforward effects, and complex interactions among the valences (especially SP-ba, and I-ba).
Members of a pre-defined, privileged, hierarchical class are exclusively involved in decision-making (i.e., some people are thinkers, others are doers).Decision-making is collaborative, with the most effective decisions coming from heterogeneous groups that change from time to time.
Command and control management dominates. The most effective form of power is considered to be coercive (via reward and punishment).The most effective form of leadership and power is referent. Command and control management cannot be effective without damaging the fabric of ba-form relationships.
Individuals are systemically disempowered via the notion of “change begins at the top.” The bureaucratic myth of hierarchical merit is linked to a patriarchal social and class model, leading to the so-called Peter Principle .Change begins where it begins, with systems of individual and collective autonomy and agency being institutionally supported. With a strong sense of organization-ba, when no one is in charge, everyone is in charge.
“Work” and “life” are mutually exclusive. Work-life balance is measured by the time not being spent in one or the other pursuit.Work and life are integral. Work-life integration is achieved when individual members and their personal values are validated by how their organizational contributions are truly valued.

Happy 10th Anniversary, Cluetrain!

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