The LEARNING ORGANIZATION
Organizations are supposed to create value, through organizing the work of individuals and providing various resources (e.g. tools, equipment, space, materials) that they need. Working alone, people could create certain kinds of value but other kinds require the combined efforts of many. Nothing is more central than collaboration (working together) for understanding organizations and management.
Collaboration among many workers over many months can be attempted through various means: including:
(1) formal rules and role descriptions, (2) direct supervision by bosses, and (3) informal adaptation, worker initiative, and give-and-take on the spot.
Organizations have a structure of formal rules and procedures plus informal additions & modifications) that have emerged informally and been accepted. Together they make up "the way we do things around here" or the culture of that org..
In an ideal "learning organization" members are always ready to find and share and use/adapt better ways to do the work. In times (like now) when external changes are constant this open adaptiveness is a must.
The learning organization replaces "bureaucracy" as the central concept and ideal in this area.
"The learning organization" as an ideal emphasizes the importance of flexibility and informal learning, while highlighting the knowledge of front-line staff. All this, when integrated with the formal bureaucratic "skeleton" can make a highly successful large organization.
So formal bureaucratic systems still provide something important. Formality can bring these important advantages: consistency, clarity, fairness (tradition?). Often we want the benefits of both these approaches (formal and informal) despite the contradictions between them.
Some situations call for different combinations of both. Here is an area or dimension of duality conflicts 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.
What is the difference
between an organization
and a CHESS GAME?
or some other board game?
The pieces on a chess board have only the rights and powers specified by the rules; all pawns, castles, bishops have exactly the same rights as those of their own kind. Those rules never change. Chess pieces have no personal history or individual baggage, unlike the people who comprise an organization. People have personal goals, plans, and prejudices. They also have memory, experience, past learning. They can gossip, demean others, and steal company goods; they can also take informal leadership to make improvements and cheer up group morale.
People form relationships -- that's the good and bad news.
It makes everything more complicated.
Quote: "I just want to do my job -- but 'people problems' keep getting in the way. Awkward people mess up everything." Small group research shows that more effective work groups need some members who do not focus on "task" alone. Either group leaders must divide their time between attention to task and attention to process facilitation or some group members must act as group process facilitators.
Chess pieces can only follow the directions of the two players, who are all-powerful within the game. Unlike managers, chess players do not have to worry about the loyalty, motivation or private agendas of their chess pieces. Chess pieces have no "baggage" (neither emotional baggage nor the habit of forming mental images, stereotypes and prejudices) and so chess players do not have "people problems". They just "give orders" by moving their pieces.
Players of any game can agree to change the rules (outside of official contests); but pawns, rooks, and even chess queens cannot do that. One player can cheat on the other; but the pieces cannot. In an organization anyone can. That can be considered a "people problem" or, in a learning org. it can be turned into an advantage, harnessing individual initiative towards org. goals.
Although the chess game is not an accurate metaphor for organizational management we still like to use it because we want to think "objectively" and strategically about our org. problems. We use our imaginations to simulate org. situations and we need an experiential metaphor or model.
Competitive team games are often used as model and metaphor for thinking about organizations. Such a model shows collaboration very clearly, especially the individual-team duality and the need for individual members to act in the interests of the team as a whole. Team games also illustrate another key point -- it's not only about "winning". In amateur sports the players want to have a good time too. There can be significant satisfactions in the work and collaboration process, aside from the extrinsic rewards of pay and prizes.
A RE-DESIGNED CHESS GAME
Could we imagine a radically different kind of chess game that would more closely resemble a modern flexible, agile, innovative, learning organization?
What if the chess pieces came to life with the power of deciding when and how to move?
Bishops, pawns, etc. would still move in their traditional patterns for the first trials.
Maybe chaos would ensue for a number of trials but then ...
maybe group leaders would emerge
maybe black and white sides would agree on a new purpose instead of trying to capture the king of the other side.