Thursday, February 21, 2008

The organization is there to stay, but the manager is not

In an earlier blogpost I proposed to experiment with a blog debate and Josien and Andy were into to trying this. Josien kicked off a debate about The end of the organization? Based on an essay by Michael Gilbert.

A quote:

Is this the end of the organization? Probably not by name and certainly not in the broadest sense of the term. But the traditional, tightly controlled, top down, branded organization is finding itself having to adapt and change. The
organizations of the future will not look like the organizations of today. Whether the organization as we know it survives or not, it is by studying the changing patterns of communication that we will discover the new
shape of civil society. Our methods of analysis - and possibly our methods of regulation, funding, and participation - will shift from those that reflect managerial thinking to those that reflect ecosystem thinking.

Josien responded by agreeing that organizations are shaped by communication patterns, communication patterns are changing, therefore organizations are changing. Communication channels have determined organigrams. The social web is a revolution which has really changed the principles of communication. Secondly, she argues that it is already happening, the future is now. For instance in the music, travel industries etc. New business models emerge. Best is the read the full post.

So I will argue that the organization is here to stay. I think both are putting too much emphasis on communication. The basis of organizations is their mission, aim, goal, whatever you name it. In the commercial sector it is about products and services, in the government is it about legislation, in the nonprofit sector is it about a societal goal.. The function of an organization is to deliver that product or to achieve that mission by integrating the work of its employees. So the organization is there to stay, because its basis it collaborating to produce a product or service of value for society. Communication is a means to an end.

But I do think there are changes underway, since more and more organizations thrive on knowledge workers, professionals. I would like to point to Stephen Collin's presentation Power to the People. Stephen points to the fact that knowledge workers (people working primarily with information and developing and using knowledge) are often demotivated and restrictred by their organizations. The manager's wish to control the outputs of the organizations leads to overly controlling behaviour towards knowledge workers who feel withheld in their practice by the managers. This is a core conflict between managers and knowledge workers who don't want to be managed. So the organizations of the future will have found ways of dealing with this conflict and are smart in leveraging the power of the knowledge workers. Possible contributions to dealing with this conflict may be found in the following 3 areas:
  1. Communities of practice - whereby value created is measured and effectiveness closely monitored- this needs much more attention.
  2. Online communication and collaboration tools- which make help reducing the tension between managers and knowledge workers because it makes the work of knowledge workers more accessible and transparent. (after all, online communication leaves visible traces, face-to-face communication doesn't)
  3. Disappearance of the division between knowledge worker and managers, managers will increasingly be knowledge workers and be parttime managers - hence the disappearance of the full-time manager.


miguel said...

Hi Joitske,

thanks for the invitation. Let's see what we can whip up.

First, though, you've put up a lot of material as references :-), and I'd like to make a small mention to some of it.

Re Gilbert's article, and the "post-organization" camp. I think that misses an important point: the nature and reasons for the existence of organizations. That isn't going away.

An organization is a coherent body of people, presumably with some goals. But the key is "coherent": it is able to accept obligations, to coordinate resources and to communicate with one voice (more or less). It simplies the chain of responsibility (another key point: a network or an ecosystem are not responsible nor can easily be).

The way an organization goes about achieving those qualities may vary enormously with time, needs, domain, technology, duration... and that is indeed changing. Also, there is no denying an increasingly visible role of smaller and ad-hoc organizations (and even individuals) in parts of the economy that seemed conquered by large organizations. So change is afoot, but the organization (the concept) is not going away at all.

Re Stephen Collin's presentation, it's great even if not new at all :-).

And now to the debate. You posit that the "manager" as a role will go away or substantially change (becoming a part-time job of a knowledge worker).

In a way, I agree: most middle management roles are pretty useless in an environment in which people are competent and empowered, the general goals known and the coordination tools honed. Problem is, that is very hard to find.

A manager's role cover several of the following tasks (they may be spread or concentrated, depending on the organization):
- resource selection, improvement and management (pick the people, train the people, wake up the people, fire the people, get the tools for the people)
- goals and strategy determination (regardless of the method to devise them, in the end someone has to decide which ones the organization will seek).
- task or project management (devise and track processes, apportion work, supervise quality, check milestones, identify risks, correct deviations).
- customer and supplier and partner management (sell, buy, collect and get paid).

What is changing is the "how". The way those tasks are carried out is changing because organizations are changing, and not just because of better communications. But the need for them remains.

So as long as five independent blog publishers set up an organization to go sell their banner space, one of them becomes CEO and takes charge of all those tasks.

The manager is not going away. He (or she) is coming nearer. In many cases, as your third alternative suggests, it will be "one of us" donning a special hat for the occasion. But if the organization thrives and persists, it will usually become a specialist role again.

IMHO :-). Best regards,


Neli Maria Mengalli said...

Miguel and Joitske,...

So I will argue that the organization is here to stay (Joitske). Maybe the human being creates or is going to create new interface. Then we can read more Weibel. I insert this text in Spanish Language: You can see more about Weibel in:

1. Communities of practice - whereby value created are measured and effectiveness closely monitored- this needs much more attention.
Have we used maps and researches quali/quanti for valor?
2. Online communication and collaboration tools- which make help reducing the tension between managers and knowledge workers because it makes the work of knowledge workers more accessible and transparent. (after all, online communication leaves visible traces, face-to-face communication doesn't)
We need to invest in human, Is technology neutral?
We have a point: technology or human? Where is your eye?

Neli Maria Mengalli said...


I have added a link to your blog on my spaces:

All the best,


Andy Roberts said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Andy Roberts said...


hoong said...

I think sometime we put too much importance on the FREEDOM of knowledge workers and sacrifice 'the importance of how an organization should be in order to survive'... as Miguel pointed out 'cohesiveness'.

Everyone wants freedom. That is why some people prefer to be homeless. AND we cannot assume that only knowledge workers are capable to use their brains, while homeless persons don't.

It is also amusing to think we thrive for 'team player' to join us, YET we want freedom to run things the way we see fits. How can there be a TEAM when there is no 'organization/management' to keep things ORGANIZED??

Dis-organized (if there is such word), not only is inefficient, ineffective, it is also costly. The cost is not just in the form of money, but our lives, the time we have for our family, the fragmentation of our societies ... My prediction is, soon this 'distributed mood' would one day be 'centralized' again.

Stephen Collins said...

Actually, the presentation is mine, not Jack's. Although I think Jack is a fan and can certainly talk about this stuff.

Joitske Hulsebosch said...

Hi Stephen, very sorry for that and I will change it! The mistake occurred because i found it through Jack Vinson and put that in my delicious tag.

Thushara said...

Office Supplies are pretty boring, but what about organization, productivity, office humor and annoying your coworkers?