How to Survive the Organizational Revolution is a recent book by Ard-Pieter de Man, who is professor of management studies at VU Amsterdam plus Pieter Koene and Martijn Ars, both working in the Dutch practise of PWC. It is a very instructional text aimed at explaining some of the most recent examples of Organisation Models, in the form of a very visual guide, almost a handbook to understand what each model is, what it really means and how they can be implemented.
The approach of the authors is very illustrative. For each model they present what they define an “Information Leaflet”, similar to those found in medicines, highlighting the key components of each model, its advantages and disadvantages. The book contains several case studies, and a few “excursions”: short sections that go deeper in some areas.
The book goes tries to fill a gap left by Laloux’s approach in Reinventing Organisations, whereby the authors identify a weak diagnosis, selective research and a lack of critical thinking as key issues of that work, and that this book tries to remediate.
The book analyses in details the following Organisation Models:
There is no one best way of organising.Ard-Pieter de Man, Pieter Koene and Martijn Ars, How to Survive the Organizational Revolution, page 20
For each model, four core components are investigated following the model suggested by Puram, Alexy and Reitzig:
If Laloux’s work was surely selective in the type of cases picked my feeling by looking at this list of elements is that the analysis suggested is derived from a traditional organisation narrative deeply rooted in the Discourse of Work as Job. As we have seen, the concept of Tasks is derived from the world of the Industrial Revolution, where the traditional hierarchical bureaucracy is born. My feeling is that, instead, some of the proposed new organisational models need to be interpreted based on different meanings of work, such as that of mastery. The case of Wikipedia is interesting: it’s not possible to truly understand the phenomena by applying classic criteria of task division. That is a network of knowledge sharing, not of efficient task making. Same the logic of Rewards, which in many self-management approaches is bypassed in terms of the move to intrinsic motivation (which is cited in the text).
For each model, also an information leaflet is propòosed in the form a brief table is shown that looks at the following components: Problems Solved, Disadvantages, Suitable For?, Not Suitable For?, Key ingredients, Risks, Leadership. Most of the indications here are interesting and well reflected, while for some there is again the weight of a traditional model perspective.
An entire chapter is dedicated to the topic of self-organisation (the authors are open in mentioning that they use this term in its amplest form, also including the elements of self-management and self-coordination. It is. Avery interesting chapter, as it focuses well, again, on the transformation needed for a traditional organisation that wants to embark into a transformation towards a new model. The authors identify a number of conditions that should be looked up to enable self-organisation. Particularly when transforming existing traditional organisations, they argue, it is important to be aware of all of these components.
The book is a much-needed contribution to the need that many companies have in exploring new organisation models. Bypassing the ideological views that some model-proponents often displays, this book plays the objectivity card of the narrative that there is not a perfect organisation model. Its descriptive structure, and illustrative style, are constructive for those that approach the topic for the very first time and want to know, as business leaders or entrepreneurs, what choices need to be made to evaluate a new form of organisation. I see a connection also with the approach I’m crafting around the Intentional Organisation.
The models proposed are not many. This is not a problem per se; the domain is too vast to be able to analyse each existing model. Plus, the book is correct in pointing out that, ultimately, it is not about choosing a model off the shelf and applying it, but rather finding the mix of ingredients that best fit a specific organisation. The choice of the models seems, however, to fit a search of available cases, rather than looking at the value of each model. I would have expected, for example, more explanation on the differences between Sociocracy and Holacracy.
The chapter on self-organising provides some great points on how to analyse the transition. My concern is that when proposed to a manager of a traditional organisation, rather than being an action list can quickly become an alibi argument for not even trying out. A strong risk, especially as it is my strong opinion that self-organisation and self-management are distinctive characteristics of the organisations better suited to compete in the info-sphere.
One element that the book highlights well in its introduction, is the fact that new organisational forms need to meet institutional demands. On one side we have governments, who are demanding more transparency and clear identification of responsibilities in corporate decisions. On the other a trend that, by pushing collegial decisions, will often go against that governance principle. It’s an element that needs to be considered, although I would rather see this as a way to include institutions in the development of these new forms of organising, rather than simply painting an external contingency.
Overall I found this a very good reading, with the caveats that I mentioned above. I agree with the philosophy that each organisation needs to find its own specific model and that many elements of the old traditional organisation can still apply an appropriate context. However, I feel there could have been a bit more courage in admitting that we are still at the very start of the experiments and that many elements need simply to experiment, without limiting creativity with an excessive backwards-looking sense.
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