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We are enabling and discovering the next generation organization. Command and Control served us well for a long time, but we’ve reached its limits. Its still useful, but for organizations to be successful in the 21st century, they need to be more fluid, more efficient, learning and production entities that are focused on the team supported by things like processes, structures and other assets.
Command and Control has its limitations.
Have you ever watched an organization try to reorganize? Have you heard the debate about what should be centralized, what should be team based, reporting structures, “matrixes”? Its a mess, eh? Because any truly functional organization is deeply interdependent. Command and control does not model interdependence well. The 21st century organization will be learning how to foster interdependence amongst functions and individuals
The command and control structure that is the norm in nearly all organizations of the last few hundred years embody two 18th century “truths” – that are still true, but meaningfully different in the 21st century. First – not everyone has equal skills, talent and power. Second, communication to and amongst a large number of people is difficult and must be inter-mediated.
We are not equal: Skills, talent and power
People are not fungible. We have different skills, talents, backgrounds and perspectives. ( People talk about the “A” team and the “B” team – but on only part of that is raw “talent” and many times context, experience and commitment are equally important. Are they in the right place, with the right insight, right resources, right support, right leadership. But this is really another conversation entirely) It has been shown that cognitive diversity – different ways of thinking – makes for faster, better solutions. We are not talking about demographic differences per se, but differences in perspective, experience and interpretation.
So People rightly have roles – that hopefully reflect their specialties, expertise and experience.Those roles, however are not as strictly defined as they once were. The leader of the marketing team may be a contributor to the messaging team. The leader of one research project may be a subject matter expert to another.
The concept of the team has evolved. We need teams to be able to form on demand – the right people, the right resources, the right objectives. Sometimes these teams include people from multiple organizations (think G-20, disaster responders, or any kind of partnership). These teams can last hours, days, months or years – depending on their purpose. They may include 3 or 3,000 people. People may come and go over time. Sometimes this is called “swarming”. I like the term.
Here’s where we’ve seen the most obvious, material change. It is now radically easier to communicate amongst groups of all sizes. Since communication is the foundation of collaboration, coordination and problem solving, the basic tools to enable ad hoc teams to form and be effective are now widely available (if widely different in approach and efficacy).
Seamless group communications relieve the burden of command and control to be the primary form of communication. It also unleashes the ability for observations, expertise and insight to flow throughout the organization, rather than only along lines of command. This is a radical shift that we are only beginning to see the implications and massive benefits from.
Now that we’ve unlocked these abilities, however, we’re finding that the fundamental assumptions of how organizations work have been challenged. What we’re doing now is exploring, learning and refining what the new organization really is. Its pretty cool, we know that.
It does better things. People are more fully in. We can rise to new and different challenges. We waste less. Expertise is more fully leveraged. We see the potential to connect the dots (even if we haven’t completely connected them yet).
The most effective form of 21st century leadership is recursive. That is, leaders cultivate leaders. Each individual develops their own sense of purpose, that relates to the overall purpose of the organization. And they should be leaders of and for that purpose – that is, shepherding that purpose, orchestrating action, actively learning, and making decisions in accordance with that purpose. Some people call that self actualization. Some call it “employee engagement” (a term that I already mistrust as a platitude of ineffectual leadership), but the fact is that each individual is the master of their destiny, they are invited to and required to lean-in to the problem, and to bring their best to understanding it and sorting it out. This can be made ever more powerful with the support of processes and systems that take some of the grunt work out of the process, and ensure that what the organization has learned is practiced, but fundamentally this is the non-process work – the discovery and creation of the new, improved, novel and possible.
Much great writing is being done on each of these themes. Umair Haque, Charlene Li, Daniel Pink, John Hagel and John Seeley Brown are just a couple of the scholars and writers that are redefining work and organizations in the 21st century. But this is not the stuff of the ivory tower. this is happening in YOUR business, government, school and community right now. What will you contribute?