Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Disappearance of the Organization Causes Change of Thinking

Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Disappearance of the Organization Causes Change of Thinking

Article excerpt

I was recently asked, ``What's the biggest difference in your thinking since you wrote `Thriving on Chaos'?'' My unequivocal response: The disappearance of the organization as we have known it.

The organization of the future - already arrived, courtesy innovators in every industry - will have: (1) no inside barriers (between functions); (2) no outside borders (with vendors, subcontractors, temporary workers, middlepersons, end users); (3) no respect for scale in the traditional sense (it creates alliances of all kinds and joins networks with partners of various sizes and subcontracts anything to anyone from anywhere); and (4) no regard for distance or nationality (Tokyo in 1989 is closer than Peoria in 1969). In fact, the usual notion of ``the firm,'' which in and of itself denotes borders, is unnecessary - even dangerous. The new organization informs everyone from everywhere about everything in real time; it is a brave new world of ``zero feedback loops,'' where front-line workers completely in the know act without supervision.

``Life without hierarchy'' is my shorthand for the one big difference in my thinking. The topic is complicated, requiring whole new concepts of organizing. But to illustrate, consider an apparently mundane example - from the ancient General Motors components plant in Bay City, Mich. A single phone on the plant's work floor symbolizes for me the new world without hierarchy.

Workers were encouraged by a progressive plant manager to visit their ``customer,'' a GM assembly plant in Toledo, Ohio. A team from Bay City traveled 120 miles to meet its counterparts. They decided to install a telephone hot line to link the two teams directly. That's all there is to the story. Except that this simple tale flies directly in the face of hundreds of years of managerial tradition and organizational thinking.

Today, when a problem crops up with a part made in Bay City, the Toledo work team gets on the horn. A quick solution usually results. The Bay City gang is hearing from ``friends'' (they've met face-to-face). If the call doesn't resolve the problem, the groups will do some analysis and work out a solution.

What's going on? First, rich and dense connections - and the odds of connecting - allow hourly workers to talk and work with fellow hourly workers without the time-consuming and politicized intervention of several levels of management. Second, the feedback loop is real time. Response occurs before the system flies out of control. Third, problems get fixed rapidly and without hassle. Finally, innovative organizational learning takes place, decreasing the odds of problem repetition.

In the old days, the Toledo team would have complained about Bay City's faulty parts to their supervisor. …

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