Pulp and Paper Canada

Features Environment & Sustainability
New Work Models:

February 1, 2001  By Pulp & Paper Canada

Bureaucracies and corporations around the world are beginning to abandon top-down management structures, an organization that many view as an obsolete icon of the Manufacturing Society. Self-directed …
Bureaucracies and corporations around the world are beginning to abandon top-down management structures, an organization that many view as an obsolete icon of the Manufacturing Society. Self-directed team structures with variations unique to different companies and requirements are becoming more common. Information technologies are facilitating these new work models, which for some organizations are

viewed as a proprietary and competitive asset. It is also possible that these new flat organization models will mitigate the growing stressful dilemma of not enough time [Time Wars]. Soon nobody and everybody could be in charge.

Experience through the 20th century has shown time and again that complex social systems work poorly if they are too centralized. Yet governments, corporations, non-profit agencies, organized religion, labor unions, and the military view the hierarchical pyramid as the model of “good organization”. The marriage of computers and telecommunications has increased the speed and extended the range of financial speculation, business transactions, military operations, political protests, and humanitarian activity. With everyone knowing everything about what’s happening and who is doing what, there is emerging a “Nobody-in-Charge” society. Examples of [global] organizations where there is no authority that is directing operations are: automatic banking, airline reservations, global navigation, ISO, international foreign exchange market, and the Internet. These organizations have been called The Uncentralized Model as opposed to the Centralized Model (see Harlan Cleveland, The Futurist Magazine). It should be noted that uncentralized is not the same as decentralized, which is really another way to preserve the hierarchy.


Principles for an effective uncentralized organization model are:

A minimum of clearly defined rules and boundaries.

Maximized opportunity for each participant to advance the organization’s common purpose.

Open consultation on this purpose and the means for its delivery.

A means for mutual adjustment.

A metaphor for the nobody-in-charge, uncentralized model might look like the “purpose” arrow in the figure, where self-organized teams are aligned with the team purpose, each of which are in turn aligned with the common purpose of the enterprise. Mao Tse-tung recognized the power of the uncentralized model — he called it “Many flowers blooming” — and promptly abandoned it for the centralized model and parochial hands-on power.

The uncentralized work model also requires a different skill set of its participants — team functioning. It is focused on the soft skills of social role, self-image, trait and motive. These are characteristics that provide motivation and lead to long-term success.

In the corporate world Chrysler abandoned a centralized manufacturing model in its now famous successful restructuring to “platform teams” in the early 90s. It is interesting that it is now facing a renewed crisis with the imposition of a new hierarchical style from its new German owners at Daimler-Benz AG. This will be an interesting story to watch. The forest products industry has its own hierarchical structures in both manufacturing and government-controlled fibre supply situations. There are competitive issues at play here and a serious look at the benefits of an uncentralized model might be a key. For example, such a model may be incorporated into an organization’s people processes. I have a proven uncentralized organization model for People Development — if anyone is interested in learning more, please contact me.

Why is this important?

Re-organizing work offers a low or no capital cost option for improved competitiveness. However, making such a change is not easy; it involves a change in culture that for many is a difficult adjustment. Furthermore, change cannot be mandated; it has to be a process that is bottom-up driven. So far most of the standards for uncentralized organizations are technical; ethical standards for (global) human behavior await the social inventions of the 21st century. It is worth noting that the up to 20-year-old Gen Ys [also known as the Net Generation or Nexters] are the ones with the strong ethical standards and, as such, are likely to lead this revolution. According to Cleveland, “Practical Pluralism” is the likely destiny for society. How to conceive, plan, organize, and lead human institutions in ways that best release human ingenuity and maximize human choice is one of the great conundrums of the century ahead. Two principles to consider: “Planning is not architecture, it’s more like fluid drive;” “Information is for sharing, not hoarding.”

Alan R. Procter can be reached at a.r._procter@telus.net. For more information, visit www.futureviews.net.

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