COLLABORATION and 

The LEARNING ORGANIZATION

Organizations are supposed to create value, through organizing the work of individuals and providing various resources (e.g. tools, equipment, data, space, materials) that they need.

Working alone, people can create certain kinds of value but many kinds require the combined efforts of many. Nothing is more central in a modern economy than collaboration (working together) for successful organizations and organizing. What does it look like?

  

Traditionally, until recent years, a focus on collaboration would highlight the ORGanizational "skeleton" - the FORMAL rules and role descriptions that workers should follow. The main process to ensure compliance to the rules and procedures is direct supervision by bosses. This is the Bureaucratic model of ORGanizing. Today it is no longer the gold standard of Org. management BUT through much of human history Bureaucracy was a key success factor in major civilizations such as the Roman Empire and the Industrial Revolution. 

In

In modern conditions (since roughly the late 20th century) with constant change, more educated workers and less rigid norms about work and discipline, it became apparent that the Bureaucratic model did not work well for ensuring efficient collaboration among modern workers in current conditions.

We discovered the importance of INFORMAL relationships at work, informal adaptation (org. learning). Workers' initiative was seen to be essential to a modern, competitive, successful ORGanization. 

Managers struggled to come to terms with this new reality late in the 20th century, learning eventually from their Japanese competitors (e.g. Toyota) and others. The US auto industry finally erased the large quality gap between its products and those of several Japanese automakers. Most other industries had similar experience, though not as well documented. (Womack, Jones, and Roos, The Machine that Changed the World, NY: Harper, 1990.) These writers define "lean management" as " the Japanese weapon that will revolutionize Western industry".

And it did, despite much resistance (Ibid.). 

Then came the impact of the Internet/Web.

To understand ORGanizations we must combine two (conflicting) concepts - a conceptual "Odd Couple". 

1) The concept of Org. Learning (attention to adaptation, often an INFORMAL process) grows out of earlier ideas such as Total Quality Management. There is no doubt about the importance of flexibility and informal learning, nor about the need for more awareness of the knowledge of front-line staff. 

2) The concept of Bureaucracy (as a FORMAL framework for stability and consistency) remains important, however old it may be.

 So formal bureaucratic systems still provide something important: consistency, clarity, fairness (tradition?). Often we need the benefits of both these approaches (formal and informal) despite the contradictions between them. HOW to utilize some features (but not others) from each of these two approaches is a major topic all by itself.

 

Some situations call for different combinations of the two sides. Here is the area of Duality Conflicts and BOTH/And Theory which is central to my theory of Dynamic Capability - how orgs. should be managed for frequent changes of strategy when threats and opportunities are continually changing. 

BarrySugarman.org   ORGmuze 3.0

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Barry Sugarman
 

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