Organization of a LO LO7604

jack hirschfeld (
Sat, 25 May 1996 14:07:53 -0400

Replying to LO7585 --

Replying to LO7536 (i.e. to David J. Skyrme) Bill Hobler has expressed a
point of view with which I have been struggling for some time. I feel
like I am emerging from that interior dialogue with altered views.

Responding to David's comment:

>>I think you mean hierarchy, not bureaucracy.

...Bill Hobler replied:
>Call it what you will there will be a supervisor and the supervised,
>probably in all human organizations. Even in the small business there is
>the owner that pays the wages and the worker that earns it.

This clings to a paradigm of economic organization which has long been
discredited. I am surprised to discover how little is known among my
colleagues of the history of intentional communities. Not many of the
communes which were formed in the 60s have survived, but those that have,
have flourished. They are part of a tradition that goes back at least as
far as early 18th century Europe (if we are speaking of intentional
communities) and that is older than civilization (if we speak of it in its
pure form). The idea that work requires wage slavery is less than 200
years old, and its widespread social enforcement is little more than a
century old. Most of the people who write to this list appear to believe
that collaborative work is not only possible but desirable. A question
that cries out for attention is: What are the obstacle to making
collaboration the organizing principle in the socioeconomic sphere? Why
have most of the people who have taken this question seriously
historically ended up with guns in their hands?

Speaking to the "organization of a learning organization" Bill says:

>My inclination is to organize around either the customers in product
>industries and around the organization's strategic objectives in service
>industries and government. Basically I think the organization should
>organize along the axis of what they want to be. It is a future focus.
>The values expressed and walked by leadership should encourage the growth
>of learning organization atmosphere which serves the growth of knowledge
>and sharing of that knowledge.

The model for such an organization, no matter how "progressive", is the
hierarchical structure of the current paradigm. My own thinking about
this was triggered by Peter Senge's frequent repetition of his opinion
that without the "buy-in" of the leadership, creation of a learning
organization is unlikely. This flies in the face of my experience of
networks, in which assertions of leadership survive only if:

A) power is attached to leadership (as in a networked company or agency
where the leadership is enforced by either economic or political control)

B) if acceded to by other networked participants.

In the latter case, this leadership is transitory, just as it is in a
truly communitarian social setting.

I have come to believe that networks will generate new mental models for
their users, and that new models of work can arise as a consequence. In
Mike McMaster's sense, a distributed intelligence is possible, and at some
point may actually become necessary to sustain the new socioeconomic
organizations that may emerge.

Discussing the nature of work, David and Bill had this exchange:

David, as quoted by Bill:
>>The detailed structure will depends very much on factors such as nature of
>>tasks (routine non-routine), level of skills, individual characteristics
>>(some people like structure, others thrive in ambiguity).
>>So my overall conclusion is that there is no best design, but that a
>>systems perspective is a good one to start with.
Bill's response:
>I agree as long as the systems allow for growing people and their ability
>to work collaboratively toward mutually agreed goals. Industry news seems
>re pleat with 'work flow' implemented by 'xyz' software. This is placing
>service and administrative people into the same work climate as the
>assembly line. It can and has been grossly missused. I would rather form
>a cross trained team and allow them to schedule their work, and reward
>them for doing better work (however that is defined ethically) as a team.
>I am afraid that with work flow software and the emerging process control
>software that can route less structured intellectual work to a desktop we
>are separating people rather than making teams. Consider the computer
>programmer in a large organization. S(he) just finishes testing a module
>and sends it on. The process control software notes that (s)he is
>finished immediately e-mails another program specification and the
>expected completion date and time. My gosh s(he) didn't even get to stand
>up or look away from the computer.

This describes the problems at the boundary, as new methods of work remain
enmeshed in former methods of control. The tyranny of the machine is
merely an expression of the overriding tyrannical nature of work
distribution in our society today. If the network is ever "ours" and its
output is "ours", I feel confident that we will design in for ourselves
"hours" that will be "ours".

Bill concludes:

>People must be with people to be in a learning organization.

This is based on an assumption which Bill has expressed and which I have
attached below. While I agree fully with the conclusion, I mean something
different by it.

To be "with people" you no longer need to be face-to-face with them, in my
opinion. I feel like I am more "with" Rick Karash and Tobin Quereau, for
example, than I am with most of the people who work down the hall from me,
and even with some of my colleagues with whom I work almost every day.
And I don't mean by this that I am "with" them because I share a
fellow-feeling and set of interests. I am "with" them because we do work
together in this space almost every day, even though we very seldom
"speak" to each other in any form.

In this sense, I am "with" Bill Hobler and David Skyrme even though we
have never met. I barely know who Bill Hobler is, but I already have some
sense of how much I would entrust what kinds of mutually accountable
outputs to his work. How did I get there?


>The 400 person assumption was just for that reason. I define a learning
>organization as one in which everyone is in a close trusting relationship.
>In fact I believe that it is relatively impossible for most people to
>maintain this level of relationship with more than about 130 people. With
>relationships outside of the work place taking some of this away and
>organization of 400 people would probably be served by seven or more
>'learning communities.' Some of these would be communities that span
>others to expand learning beyond just one small group.


Jack Hirschfeld How deep is the ocean? How high is the sky?

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