Spannender Artikel von David Amerland zum Thema “Alternative Organisationsformen” in Forbes Online am 8. April 2014:
What helps a business win in the 21st century? Agility. But if you don’t feel very agile, why not? The answer may lie in the very structure of a legacy enterprise that’s mired in the past…
What Is “Agility”?
To win, you need intelligence within your organisation, and nimbleness outside it. A personal, personable approach to marketing. The ability to see future trends and innovate to meet them.
Most organizations are still based around the familiar set-up of a C-Suite sitting atop a pyramid of lesser executive roles, each with its own cadre of minions to command and control.
Despite the lip-service that many enterprises pay to social business models, the transition is a slow one. Understandably, few within the organization want to give up their position of power and the perks that go with it.
In the pre-social-media age, when things in the market place moved at a slower pace, this wasn’t much of an issue. Memos would go out. Minions would get them. Things would slowly move along.
But that’s not what’s happening now. When three-quarters of customers expect to get a fast answer to a customer service complaint via Twitter, it’s clear that agility leads to a real, competitive advantage.
But becoming more agile—indeed most change—comes at a price. When executives are invested in the roles they have, anything that interferes becomes a problem.
Employees and managers go into defensive mode against each other. Change is resisted because it can’t be trusted to respect the boundaries and perks of organizational roles. Command and control reasserts itself as the only means of moving forward.
Yet, outside the enclave of the traditional enterprise, things are changing—rapidly.
Customers demand a human face and a human response from organizations that are not always prepared to work this way. The way a business meets those demands frequently becomes the bellwether that shows if it’ll grow or fail.
Disruption Is The Agile Answer
When you’re faced with an intractable problem, the clever thing to do is make the problem be part of the solution—“If you can’t beat them, join them.”
This is where holarchy comes in. As a social technology designed to reinvent the hierarchical organization, holarchy—or the “flat lattice”—is disruption made into a system and baked into the enterprise. At its heart lies the notion that no one in a group can be more important than the whole, and each is equally invested in the success of the holarchic organization.
Companies that adhere to this system of governance are few and far between: Gore-Tex inventor W.L. Gore and Associates, Twitter creator Obvious Corporation and, most recently, Zappos. (As one more mark of their forward-thinking cultures, they’re all significant users of cloud computing.)
The fact that Zappos, at 1,500 employees, is the largest medium-sized company to try holarchy speaks volumes to the conceptual difficulties involved, never mind the practical ones. Indeed, enterprises such as HP and GM did tactical experiments in the 1990s with what were then known as self-managed or self-directed teams: They showed small-scale promise, but often failed to scale up strategically to disrupt the organizational inertia.
Yet the potential advantages are enormous: Faster decision-making, greater transparency and accountability within the enterprise, employees that are emotionally invested in their roles and happier at their work. The inherent fluidity of roles and the assumption that anyone can do anything—provided they’re supported by the right framework—has a positive, disruptive effect on the traditional idea of how work is done.
The principle behind all this is sound enough: When everyone is fully invested in their work and equally mindful of threats and opportunities coming from outside, the organization can harness the full collective cognitive power of everyone within it to forge ahead.
The current hierarchic model of the enterprise was based on the rigid structure in the military, which certainly doesn’t believe in equality of roles.
Yet even within the military, there are examples of holarchy at work: The legendary SAS, the elite special-forces regiment of the British Army, has active units comprised of five-man teams. The moment they’re on a mission, army hierarchy is abandoned. Information and objectives are shared, regardless of rank. Roles are ascribed to team members by the group. Anyone can lead at any time.
It’s an organizational method that’s proved extremely successful over the past 70+ years: The result is a robust, highly motivated, tight-knit unit that functions even when its “leader” is incapacitated. It can be trusted to make the right decisions under the most adversarial of circumstances.
So Why Doesn’t Everyone Try It?
Of course, business isn’t exactly like war. The market place isn’t literally a battle zone.
But the company that can move fast has a distinct advantage. It can respond to its customer base with one voice, from any of its members, and can see threats and opportunities before the traditional enterprise reporting tools.
That’s more in keeping with the requirements of the modern market, where customer expectations are constantly changing and disruption can come from any direction.
The Bottom Line
So far, those who’ve tried holarchy have been ad-hoc army units or companies that are either small in size or outliers. But if Zappos succeeds, it will send a clear signal to modern enterprises.
The days of traditional C-Suite meetings to decide how to get their workforce to fall in line may be a thing of the past.