What if an organisation had the insight, the courage, the sheer chutzpah to move away from the traditional management hierarchy to some other form of organisational structure – e.g. without hierarchy, and without managers? What might we reasonably expect to happen?
“If a factory is torn down but the rationality which produced it is left standing, then that rationality will simply produce another factory. If a revolution destroys a systematic government, but the systematic patterns of thought that produced that government are left intact, then those patterns will repeat themselves in the succeeding government. There’s so much talk about the system. And so little understanding.”
~ Robert Pirsig
If an organisation decided to get rid of its managers, all other things remaining the same, we might reasonably expect little to change. As Pirsig observes, the systematic patterns of thought that drove the organisation in its previous form will repeat themselves in the new form. Most likely producing the same behaviours, and the same results, as before.
So it’s not that hierarchical management is the root cause of the relatively ineffective performance of the organistion. Rather, it’s the “systematic patterns of thinking” which are the root cause of that ineffective performance. Hierarchy, siloism, command and control, and all those other memes of the Analytic memeplex are but symptoms – visible manifestations – of Pirsig’s underlying “systematic patterns of thinking”.
Many people (not least, John Seddon) have for some time expounded the view that for organisations to become significantly more effective, it’s management thinking that has to change. For which I read, the thinking, and thereby the behaviours, of individual managers and executives.
But, as Pirsig observes, it’s not the individuals involved, not their individual sets of assumptions and patterns of thinking, but the systematic patterns of thought. And where do these reside? In society at large, and more close to home, in the collective psyche of the organisation itself.
In our thought experiment here, even if we shot all the managers and executives, the collective psyche of the organisation would remain. And as with the torn-down factory, the external factors impinging upon and shaping the situation – that collective psyche – would also remain. And so, even without those managers and executives, the old systematic pattens of thought would remain. Homeostasis indeed.
Moreover, how fair is it to ask just the managers and executives to change their thinking – even it they could? Where’s the “we’re all in together” spirit? I guess that sense of community is part of the future organisation we’d like to see? What chance we can build a community, a fellowship, of solidarity and mutualism through singling out one constituency for special pain?