Organization of a LO LO7698
Fri, 31 May 1996 10:53:07 -0400

Replying to LO7637 --

Hi Phillip,

I like your diagnosis, but I am not sure that your prescription isn't a
series of desirable outcomes (rather than inputs). Also IMHO it doesn't
capture the tension which every manager experiences in established
organizations between the need to keep the existing system running
efficiently while creating the conditions under which it can change to
something new. I think of this as a tension between management and
leadership (See Zaleznick's key article in HBR May-June 1977 "Managers and
Leaders: Are They Different?")

In a message dated 96-05-27 22:18:02 EDT, you write that managers must be

>(a) to provide the information to the system which defines its purpose and
>maintains the focus of the system's elements upon that purpose (known as

This is relatively easy for the existing organization as information needs
and purposes are well defined (the purpose of such an organization "is
what it does" according to folk like Stafford Beer). The system's elements
have a large technical component to them. This role I think of as
management. In contrast, the role of leadership is to hold out a vision of
what the organization could be. Ideally this has a large social component
and deals with the contribution of the organization to the community and
society as a whole. This vision is not the view of one person but the
views of many, articulated and expressed by those playing leadership
roles. Indeed, it is their ability to express these tacit, ineffable
feelings of others that defines a leader. So leaders are those who can
"tell our story", explaining where we have been, where we are now and
where we are going. This is not so much "providing information to the
system" as expressing the core values which make it desirable to continue
as a system. > >(b) ascertain the best forms of work organisation
required to maximise the >conditions, given the nature of the purpose and
the environment in which >the activity is taking place (including
evaluating the best technologies >for maximising the appropriate flow of

We know the best conditions for learning: small groups, some level of
stress - e.g. external threat, minimal hierarchy, shared values,
face-to-face communication, open dialogue in an extended network, variety
of experiences, learning by example from experts, mentoring during
apprenticeship in communities of practice etc. The only problem is that
these conditions are all compromised to greater or lesser extent by the
technical requirements of large scale established organizations. The trick
is to find ways of simulating these conditions while managing the existing
system! > >(c) to scan for blocks and impediments to the information flow
and to act >to remove them (including the treatment of team based

Isn't the challenge of managing complex systems that they are too complex
to scan in this way? Even assuming that there is someone with a synoptic
mind capable of scanning and diagnosing the system (are they part of the
system?), the problem is that most of the "blocks and impediments" are
components of the existing, functioning system and are often felt to be
valuable. One person's pathogen is another's euphorogen (just made it up).
There can be no "clean sheet" except in an open patch where no
organization yet exists. So the problem is how to create "open patches" in
the organization, to make its boundaries permeable. > >(d) to implement
programmes which help personnel to best meet condition >(b) individually
and collectively (which also includes the treatment of >team based
pathogens which attack healthy learning behaviour); > Established
organizations are packed with programs: do we really need to introduce
more? Don't we need to create open spaces, rather as 3M does in so many
ways e.g. by allowing their people to spend 15% of their time on projects
of their own choosing etc.

>(e) to scan for external threats to the system which are likely to demand
>further adaptation;

The word "scan" makes it sound as though there is some kind of radar
system - I wish there was. One of the lessons from the failures of
successful companies is that the threats don't show up early enough on the
rational scopes. It is not a question of "corporate myopia" either. There
are so many potential threats, so many possible scenarios, that the
important ones may be seen but not recognized until it's too late. Surely
we should be aiming at rapid response: we don't have to be omniscient,
just better than the competitors. We need contexts in which the "hunters"
on the periphery of the organization can respond right away (and give
early warning if anyone is listening). How do we attract and retain
hunters? IMHO it's the creation of open patches again. Chrysler say they
now measure whether they are near the top of the lists of young designers
as a place to work: that's quite a challenge to change the environment of
an old line car company! But Chrysler know that, if they don't attract
them now, they won't have the hot car designs in the future: and they
can't wait to detect it as a threat. > >(f) otherwise to keep out of the
way. > This is implementable! But leaders can never do "nothing".
Nonaction is seen by the organization as a response and may be indicative
of lack of support.

In short, IMHO when we talk of the organization of an LO, we need much
greater sensitivity to context rather than the overwhelming proccupation
with content. Removing constraints is as critical as initiating action;
good questions are preferable to good answers; behavior is changed by
experience not by the impact of ideas. Managers and leaders are different,
and those that aspire to be an LO may need teams to handle the inherent
contradictions between the two roles. Many companies function with a top
management team consisting of a make-it-happen operating person and
visionary chairperson. The former (manager) handles content and the
technical system, the latter (leader) sets the context and tone for the
social system. It usually helps if the latter role is played by the formal
"boss", otherwise the make-it-happen manager will get rid of the leader:
"herders" kill "hunters".

Best wishes,

David Hurst (
Speaker, Consultant and Writer on Management
Author of "Crisis & Renewal: Meeting the Challenge of Organizational Change"
(HBS Press, 1995). See Books at


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