23 June 2008

What is the Question to Which Hierarchy is the Answer?

In a pseudo-non-hierarchical organization, one of the most frequently asked questions is, who’s in charge? Who’s providing the leadership? Who decides what gets done first? Okay, so that’s three variations on the same theme: Who’s on top? The answer is often expressed in hierarchical terms, where the hierarchy in some pseudo-non-hierarchical cases reflects the hierarchy of knowledge, rather than the more conventional economic, or status and class hierarchies. But, perhaps the best answer emerges from my aphorism that, when no one is in charge, everyone is in charge. I observed this in my own department a while ago. Although it may be counter-intuitive, it is consistent with the emergent nature of a UCaPP-oriented, valence organization. I am finding evidence of such interesting, counter-intuitive behaviours among a couple of my participant organizations, one of which reports that when you have a more-UCaPP culture overall, bureaucratic inefficiencies (like strict procedures, protocols, and navigating administrative minefields) can be eliminated without incurring a higher risk of adverse consequences. Indeed, they find it a far more effective way of getting things done.

The secret to all of this, and something that seems to be characteristically inherent in a UCaPP culture, is a shared [something]. I’m using the placeholder [something] because I haven’t yet found the right word. It’s more than vision (since vision is the wrong sense metaphor in a UCaPP world). It’s not merely the tactility, because shared [something] incorporates worldview, imagined future, collective motivation, and collaboratively constructed group – or organization – identity. It’s not necessarily manifest in shared objectives or goals, since these are, in my view, emergent, contingent, and continually in flux. It is [something] that sustains the organization as a whole, and provides the psycho-social energy necessary for the truly organic, valence organization to maintain homeostasis in a complex world.

But to the point, the shared [something] enables emergent leadership of the organization as an entity, without the necessity of any one person (or sub-organization) being dominantly directive. How well can this possibly work? Well, in a specific instance of an organization form more conventionally known as a European city – Bohmte, Germany to be specific - they have applied this principle to the problem of traffic. As reported by Der Spiegel (in translation):
Saturday, Bohmte of Lower Saxony is official[ly] with Osnabrück, the first German municipality without traffic signs in the [city-]center. … Bohmte had taken part as one of seven municipalities from five European Union member states in the European Union project, “Shared space”, with which all road users used the street space equally. The citizens celebrated the day with a road celebration. The renouncement of traffic signs, traffic lights, Fußgängerinseln and other barriers creates mutual consideration between the drivers, cyclists and pedestrians and increases security in the traffic, said [European Union parliament president Hans Gert] Pöttering. “Consideration, indulgence and caution in handling are with one another particularly in the traffic indispensable.” The project is however not only an indication of intelligent and courageous traffic policy, but also good European co-operation. … Minister Stefan Schwegmann was pleased, which had Bohmte now a central place. “Shared space is not only a traffic concept, but it has something to do with lives, meeting and communication.”
Well said, Minister Schwegmann! By giving up the presumed need to control, and focusing more on living, meeting (especially of minds), and truly communicating, the questions for which bureaucracy, administrative control, and hierarchy and are the answers may lend themselves to far more interesting approaches.
(Thanks, David!)

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8 comments:

D Holt said...

I think it may have something to do with shared (accountability, responsibility, well-being). Illich might have termed it "convivial" which I think is what you're driving at.

http://opencollector.org/history/homebrew/tools.html

"I choose the term "conviviality" to designate the opposite of industrial productivity. I intend it to mean autonomous and creative intercourse among persons, and the intercourse of persons with their environment; and this in contrast with the conditioned response of persons to the demands made upon them by others, and by a man-made environment. I consider conviviality to be individual freedom realized in personal interdependence and, as such, an intrinsic ethical value. I believe that, in any society, as conviviality is reduced below a certain level, no amount of industrial productivity can effectively satisfy the needs it creates among society's members."

D Holt said...

In case it wasn't obvious, I was answering the question "what is the placeholder word?" not the question that is the title of your post!

Mark said...

Thanks for the suggestion of conviviality - the idea of living together (from Latin, com + vivere). And it is consistent with being the opposite of strict industrial productivity, without actually being forced to sacrifice being productive, where what is produced goes beyond only economic (valence) considerations.

Aaron said...

I've heard this sort of concept referred to as shared ownership.

The obvious problem with that is that it implies, well, ownership.

sfens said...

I'm new to your blog, having received a tip here from the OLDaily, and I am not familiar with two of your acronyms. Would you be able to enlighten me? UCaPP and BAH. I'm sure they will feel obvious when you say but nonetheless...

Mark said...

Welcom sfens! BAH is Bureaucratic, Administratively controlled, and Hierarchical, which characterizes most organizations to a greater or lesser degree. I argue that BAH structures and their consequential methods of management became dominant in the Industrial Age, and remain to this day, albeit gussied up with names like "best practices" and "knowledge management."

UCaPP abbreviates the concept of being Ubiquitously Connected and Pervasively Proximate, which is the way that I characterize the massively interconnected world in which we live. Because we are, or soon will be, connected to everyone and all available information (ubiquitous connectivity) we feel the effects of being next to, or proximate to everyone and all available information (pervasive proximity). This condition changes one's direct experience of the world relative to those of us born before the 1990s (approximately), especially for those who are born directly into that experience.

My research focuses on the question, what basic concept of organization (i.e., theory or philosophy of organization) is consistent with the UCaPP world of today, as opposed to the world of the Industrial Age?

The two represent polarities, but not dichotomies. I would say that any given organization would tend to have more BAH-like tendencies, or more UCaPP-like tendencies, rather than being one or the other in an absolute sense. I am proposing what I call a Valence Theory of Organization that accounts for both BAH and UCaPP forms of organizations, that focuses on organization as an emergent entity based on specific types of relationships, rather than being based on objectives, mission or purpose.

Pam said...

Have you considered "ba" from Nonaka? Here is what he says: "Ba is Place-Time-People, a dynamic relation in context that enables creation of an Atmosphere : Shared context in motion Emotions and truth are changing rapidly ; we must share deep thoughts, not explicit knowledge.
Ba does not seek for simplification but complexity ; it provides enabler for :
Clear and shared vision and goals
Leadership
Incentive system
Place
Technologies." see http://www.polia-consulting.com/A-Japanese-approach-of-KM-the-Ba.html

Mark said...

Thanks for the suggestion, Pam. I like the concept, and the word, since it does not bring along preconceived notions, yet has already been used in a business context by Nonaka and Takeuchi. It is the Zen-ness of it that appeals to me, I think, because of the way it forces us to slow down and consider its meaning and power. I'm off to read some Nishida Kitaro, from whom the concept of ba in Japanese philosophy comes to us.