The design of our Organisations of today is largely a legacy of industrial design, and the search for effectiveness at scale: it is a model that has served us well into the Digital Age, but may fall short in the Social one. This week i am writing several pieces to explore this evolution as we move from ‘Domain’ to ‘Dynamic’, from ‘Control’ to ‘Connection’, from ‘Fixed’ to ‘Fluid’. This is a #WorkingOutLoud post that draws upon concepts and context that i have been building out over the last few years, so i am linking our to existing material where relevant.
Let me start by sharing one view of what a modern Organisation is, as a relic of our industrial heritage. Organisations can be described in two ways: they are entities of collectivism, to achieve effect at scale. An Organisation brings together a diverse group of people, according to an overall plan, and uses them to achieve a specific effect at larger scale. Central to this is that the specialism, and collective effort, can achieve more than an individual or collection of individuals. It’s an additive model.
They achieve this specific idea of ‘effect at scale’ through consistency, conformity, and replicability: consistency is a notion of quality scaled up, conformity is a production value that allows assembly line and handover, and replicability allows for globalisation and scale.
In parallel with this, or to achieve this, we end up with hierarchy, and domain: hierarchy is a structure to hold power, drive consistency (punish deviation), achieve conformity (exclude divergence), and replicability (oversight and reporting). I should stress that all of this is a very good thing indeed: this is not about control by megalomaniacs and freaks, but rather the most sensible mechanisms to drive quality and productivity through distributed systems.
Domain relates to a system of education and empire: we structure our education systems to feed the domains of our dominant Organisational design, and we also nest within these, building out networks and knowledge based power. Domains are not fluid social structures, but rather more permanent tribal ones. Once we are invested in a domain through education and tenure, we are invested in maintaining it: this is why i usually say that the constraint we feel in trying to change is held largely by good people doing good work, within systems that radically reward them for continuing to do so without changing.