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}It's coffee-break time at Oticon, a world leader in hearing aid
production. As you munch on a tasty snack, you're distracted by a
flutter in the clear plastic tube that runs through the room,
connecting the mailroom above to the trash disposal below.
The disturbance is shredded paper, probably the day's mail
being discarded after it's been optically scanned into the
specially designed Hewlett-Packard workstation network by which
all Oticoners communicate with each other, all the time.
Paper is out, by edict, at Oticon. So are a lot of other
things. On Aug. 8, 1991, at 8 a.m., a new Oticon was born.
"We removed the entire formal organization," explained Lars
Kolind, chief or the Danish company. "We took away all
departments. We took away all managers' titles. And with them
went the red tape. There are no secretaries to protect us."
In place of old-fashioned desks, each employee now has a cart.
In this ultimate self-designing organization, project teams form
on their own initiative, then gather where they wish
(workstations are ubiquitous) and get down to work. (Though a
signed-off sheet of paper eventually certifies a team's
existence, Kolind flatly insists that he has no idea how many
teams there are at any one time.)
To Kolind's surprise, almost everyone took a shine to this
strange new way of working _ and exactly one month after the
start, in a symbolic move, the company auctioned off all the old
office furniture to employees.
More to the point, the firm awoke from several years of
slumber. Profits and market share are soaring, and a new
world-beating product, which caught competitors (such as
formidable Philips) napping, was introduced in half the normal
time. Has this strange organization, which Kolind calls the
"spaghetti model," made all this possible?
"Absolutely," Kolind snapped.
But then he issues a stern warning. You must, he says, "change
everything at once" _ organization structure, culture, physical
setting and the "very nature of work itself."
Unlike Oticon, VeriFone, the world leader in credit-card
authorization systems, got it right from the start.
"Distribute organizational resources as near the customer as
possible, then add tight, fast information feedback loops" _
that's the clinical way that CEO Hatim Tyabji puts it. In the
vernacular, he calls it the "blueberry pancake model, very flat,
with all blueberries equal. …