Many of us have organized and managed our organizations and business operations with the help of a traditional family tree type organization chart. It feels familiar and sometimes it can be effective. An additional ‘benefit’ of it has been that the management has had a map for identification of who to blame when something has gone wrong.
I’ve personally experienced how poorly this model sometimes works: the complexity of the business environment is increasing and it’s often hard to either manage operations effectively or innovate.
Many of us also need to skip the illusion of full control. Better to get use to less unpredictable, more global, mobile and social business environment. The tough challenges lie in the areas of communication, coordination, learning, and leadership.
Suitably I found an old book from my home library, Stafford Beer’s “Diagnosing the System for Organizations”. Beer discusses the science of organizing effectively – Cybernetics. The book is written 1985 (!) but while browsing it, I was amazed how accurate its statements are. And I’ve always had an odd crush for the System Theory; yes, I’ve read my Schoderbek, Schoderbek & Kefalas!
Here’s an example of Stafford Beer’s thoughts on the organizational structure:
“…if the structure is dysfunctional, then no amount of financial wizardry, of insightful man-management, of business technique, will save the day. Increasingly, it seems to me, the organizational structures we inherited do not work.”
Stafford Beer has also coined a notion I like: “the purpose of a system is what it does”. Very simple and well put. Here’s in more detail what he said in one of his lectures:
“According to the cybernetician the purpose of a system is what it does. This is a basic dictum. It stands for bald fact, which makes a better starting point in seeking understanding than the familiar attributions of good intention, prejudices about expectations, moral judgment or sheer ignorance of circumstances.”
Seeking understanding, identifying the purpose, and reorganizing organizational structure to a more dynamic one with adaptive connectivity both internally and within the ecosystem they are part of. Indeed something for organizations to study.
However, strictly drawn boundaries between the functions, silo-like structures, are still flourishing. Lots of interesting research can be found on this topic. One of my favorites is Harold Jarche, a consultant and researcher I follow on Twitter. He wrote interestingly in his recent blog post:
“The big idea that is catching on and may take shape in 2011 is the integration of organizational support. Enough people are realizing that our compartmentalized approach to supporting work doesn’t help in a highly networked world. Why should HR, IT, Finance, Training, KM, OD, Marketing etc. be separate functions? It’s time to rid our organizations of Taylor’s ghost and I’m detecting a small groundswell of similar sentiments like radically different management.”
I could not agree more with him. The organizational structure, in general and for the support functions, needs fresh approach, a new mindset. Harold Jarche’s passion is in helping organizations re-integrate work and learning. The new mindset must integrate these two. A learning organization can adapt and adopt.
There is naturally a need for tools to support the transformation: social software. These tools support organizations in the creation of trusted relationships which are required for tacit knowledge sharing. I’ve earlier blogged about the need of knowledge flows instead of knowledge stocks.
It is easy to find excellent thinking and analysis around social software, for example by Dion Hinchcliffe, R “Ray” Wang, Oscar Berg and rest of the people on my Enterprise 2.0 Twitter list.
I’ve had my share of ‘silo frustration’ and will eagerly continue to study this topic. What exactly should be done then? I’ll leave that to the professionals, but I do believe that on a personal level some of the key areas can be found in this diagram “Principles of being a Creativist” (which I found here):
Accordingly, my new year’s resolution is that I will do my best to follow these Creativist principles.
My open questions are:
- In addition to the beloved System Integrators do we need Silo Integrators inside the organization? Is building the integration of organizational support a responsibility of the Top Management, Human Resources, or the infamous Somebody Else™? Do we need new roles for this kind of approach?
- In IT Service Management sphere there’s lots of talk about Business IT Alignment. Sure, but do we need Business to Business Alignment instead? And I think IT’s business is business.
I’d love to hear your point of view meanwhile I’m trying to learn more!