I am reading Gerard Fairtlough’s book, The three ways of getting things done.
The book examines three forms of workplace environment:
1) Hierarchy – the traditional organisational form of power relations in which there is a distinct progression of roles and powers from top to bottom. Hierarchies are usually inflexible, discourage learning and communication, and inhibit change. Hierarchies have been the dominant form of organisational context for so long they have become the accepted organisational orthodoxy, irrespective of the outcomes.
2) Heterarchy – the notion of multiple rule, defined as “a balance of powers rather than the single rule of hierarchy”. Examples of organisations in this form include professional partnership firms, inter-organisational departmental relationships, external strategic alliances, and organisational networks.
3) Responsible autonomy – where “a group decides what to do, but is accountable for the outcome” – accountability being the key here. Examples include workplaces where teams work together on products and services and where the outcome is based on performance and, often, profitability. One example would be an investment team investing on behalf of a particular equities fund and the outcome would be the return on investment, perhaps relative to the market or some other benchmark.
The book examines the three different forms, individually and in combination. The author tends to favour heterarchy and responsible autonomy, and I would agree based on my personal experience.
By effectively leveraging the human and social capital of an organisation, where much of an organisation’s competitive advantage resides, the organisation is better equipped to respond with agility to the changing internal and external environment, as well as enabling new ideas and knowledge to grow and flourish for improved organisational outcomes.
And in a competitive world where much of the codified knowledge is ubiquitous and commoditised, the individual knowledge and people networks of employees within the organisation form the basis of real competitive intelligence and competitive advantage. Knowledge management certainly has a role to play here.
Which organisational workplace environment would you prefer?