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What If … the Org Chart Had Links and Tags, Instead of Reporting Relationships ?

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Of course it’s silly .. but this post by Hugh Macleod titled “Buckets” got me thinking …

If nature was designed like today’s business and software, water would trickle down the valley in buckets, from bucket to bucket.

More specifically:

We have wireless in coffee shops, Skyping on transatlantic flights, Blackberries, smartphones and laptops wherever we go – why not let (server based) systems do the delivery of work-orders, run the events, do the transactions and capture the data? Why not have the flows defined with loops and warts and all ready to be refined daily as the organisations learns and grows?

“Anataxonomy” and “Flow”, combine those two principles and use the wonders of technology accordingly.

So what does this mean? Sure, we’re already getting used to the idea of big commercial Open-Source software companies like Spikesource. But what about non-software? Open-Source Exxon’s? Open-Source General Motors’s?

This is when “Flow” starts getting REALLY important.

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Smart knowledgeable people who have studied deeply the issue of why hierarchy seems such a durable concept tell us to get used to it … they say that there are good reasons why hierarchies thrive, even in the face of increasing flows of information and spreading forms of networked semi-transparency.

But hierarchies don’t have to remain static … and this is one of the big deficiencies in current models and with the existing tools of organizational design. Think about it. How often are there reorganizations, changes to departmental structures, downsizing, mergers or acquisitions – and the org chart gets tossed up in the air like a set of pick-up sticks. In the case of larger organizations, the “pick-up sticks” always come down in highly-organized, very neat looking boxes with straight lines that essentially state … “this is the right design .. this time we’ve got it” !

Until the next change.

Really, organizational structures are basically a rolling flow of change. Why the assumption of stability, of more-or-less static structure ? In my opinion, it’s just that many executive and management types don’t really like the feelings of messiness and control based only on engagement and willingness that accompany the conditions of continuous change.

So … what if work meant that at different times and for different projects, you could get *tagged* with different tags for different skills, and *linked* with other relevant of pertinent skill and personality *tags*, and so on ? Then, these new-style indicators (of capability) could be combined with availability / scheduling optimization software, and you’d have the basic format for a new form of organization chart.

Hierarchies could be developed at a specific time, for as long as may be necessary, and may involve different people or peoples depending upon the situation, the problems and the desired or hoped-for outcomes. So too for teams and purpose-focused networks of skills, abilities, competencies, willingness and availability.

If you stop and think about it for a moment, you can almost *feel* that this would probably seem more natural and more probably effective. But, we have a large legacy system in place.

Hmmm …

Back in the mid-1980′s there was a brief eruption of self-managing teams and what was called socio-technical work systems, where some of these types of issues were addressed – except that then the concepts of *knowledge work*, and mechanisms for manipulating information flows, like tags and hyperlinks, were only really fringe ideas.

Not anymore … but the org charts and the performance management and compensation practices are still (generally) what were used 30 and 20 and 10 years ago.

How much longer will yesteryear’s tools continue to suffice ?

This is basically the question Gary Hamel addresses in his recent book The Future of Management.

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The Web is a near-ideal mechanism in which to culture new strains of social organization. From Craigslist to MySpace to FaceBook to Second Life to eHarmony, from instant messaging to podcasting, blogging, video chat and virtual worlds, the Internet is radically changing the ways in which people find romance, manage friendships, share insights, learn, build communities, and more.

For the moment, though, most of this joyous and frenzied experimentation is taking place outside the plush-carpeted hallways of the corporate old guard.

I find this ironic.

While no company would put up with a 1940′s-era phone system, or forgo the efficiency-enhancing benefits of modern IT, that’s exactly what companies are doing when they fail to exploit the Web’s potential to transform the way work of management is accomplished. Most managers still see the Internet as a productivity tool, or as a way of delivering 24/7 customer service. Some understand its power to upend old business models. but few have faced up to fact that sooner or later, the web is going to turn our smoke-stack management model on its head.

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