8 thoughts on “Reshaping organisations to fit reality

  1. Kevin – This is thought provoking: you (and Ms Kanter) cover a lot of ground here, and all of it deserves a lot more conversation. I find myself agreeing with much and doubting much all at the same time (perhaps a few of my neurons are tangled!).

    To respond with at least my initial tuppence:

    I think both ‘rational’ (e.g. efficient division of labour) and ’emotional’ (e.g. power, affiliation, anxiety) explanations can be ascribed to the forms our organising takes. There is, I agree, a pendulum swinging. However, I believe it is a matter of swinging explanations (Kanter, Smith, whoever), rather than the fundamental process by which organisational structures take shape.

    The way in which organisational forms come into being is, I would say, less one of human 40-somethings reshaping organisations to fit reality, but more one of reality shaping organisations of human 40-somethings.

    Of course, anyone in any moment may assert and believe that they consciously choose different ways to organise making pins or outdoor clothing. There is another view – put by Ralph Stacey and others – that this choice is never the start of some kind of objective, autonomous ‘reshaping’. Other events and other conversations, in ‘reality’, have already led to that moment. Influencing the influencers is itself ‘always already’ influenced by other influencers, ad infinitum.

    Practically, I’m not sure what comfort this perspective offers CEOs (or consultants!) who want – here and now – to save a hummingbird or pocket an extra £1 million. (Am I the only person who wants both??)

    I think, however, the way in which our human organising occurs (what Stacey calls ‘complex responsive processes’) is truly sustainable: indeed it is inevitable, though its specific outcomes are unknowable. If we ‘start’ from that viewpoint, then our further conversations about organising ourselves may have some interesting places to go.

  2. G’day Kevin – and welcome to one of the major rationales behind the creation of Corporate Growing Pains!

    There are many ways of creating organisations. I discuss some different structures within a corporate context in a blog called “who makes a good senior management team” and provide a number of alternative approaches to establishing the leadership of an organisation. And of course, I’ll refer you again to Stephen Denning’s Radical Management.

    There is an issue in all of this. Companies and corporations are legal creations, and are therefore bound by legal requirements. If you look at the structure of most organisations, you’ll find that what are now senior leadership positions were initially created to service these needs. Over the years, people filling these positions have expanded their influence and so we now have CFO and HR Directors with broad spheres of influence because of the complexities of legal requirements. But in terms of the values, strategies, environment and capabilities of many of these organisations, these positions make little sense.

    In mathematical terms, companies can be seen as “brute force” mechanisms, that have to “recruit” and “plan” and provide set directions. They are really contrary to everything we as people want from our own lives. We are passionate about the groups we join, like footy clubs and community groups. We like doing our bit for ourselves and others, rather than following set directions that may not suit our skills and attitudes.

    One thing that has to happen if you want to achieve your aim is a fundamental change to government approaches to companies and corporations to suit 21st century needs.

    In the meantime, what Corporate Growing Pains is trying to do is to work with companies to help them get back to the alignment you’ve identified above, starting from why we are here and what brought us together.

    There are also many alternative approaches outside of the Western world, or particularly the USA “absolute” models.

    Cheers, geoff

  3. Sorry to harp on about it, but where this argument fails, for me, is in its impatience and consequent lack of sympathy for the current management paradigm – ie, the scientific reasons for its dominance.

    Yes, it seems clearly dumb and value-destructive to persist with the ol’ “command and control” machine bureaucracy. People have been arguing in that direction since Follet, nearly 100 years ago (and probably before). So *why* don’t basic evolutionary pressures just kill it off, then? What *exactly* is making it so resilient? As Geoff immediately points out, organisations (and markets) are brute force mechanisms which tend to pound value out of all participants, regardless of their petty individual preferences.

    You can’t transcend a thesis by simply posing an antithesis – transcending is achieved through synthesis, which requires a full and balanced appreciation of both ‘sides’ of the coin.

    I think perhaps we’ll have to take a serious look into the deep juridical assumptions underpinning things like ‘legal personality’ and accountability to get inside that, and fully understand it. Until that work’s done, I suspect the more religious idealism “our side” of the fence will continue to render our arguments invalid, to those with actual power.

    1. Hi Adam,

      Of course it’s foolish to debate that both sides of the coin need to be looked at – of course they do. There is a lot of human nature (whether Maslow or “The Hoff” or whomever we choose to invoke) involved as well.

      Still, I suspect what makes the model resilient is as much about its “scientific” resistance to evolutionary pressures as it is about people not challenging it effectively in the first place. Which brings us firmly to your point about assumptions and evidence…

  4. Good point from Adam about the command control mechanism that still exist, despite percieved evolutionary pressures.

    It’s easy to see on the outside, at seminars, business meetings, that everything is forward thinking and it would appear that the mechanism is almost gone. Gurus, influencers and experts will evangelise about how forward their employee engagement is and how others should follow, but within, the mechanism takes over as a way to make sure the cogs still turn efficiently.

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