“Changes In Latitudes, Changes In Attitudes”*

Posted by jlubans on May 12, 2015

Caption: The Hybrid Organization

Deep in the text of a keynote talk, “Do We Need Libraries?” I was surprised by Steve Denning’s ideas on “radical management”. He contends that the new organization model is economy driven; so out with the Traditional Economy and in with the Creative Economy. The former is led and controlled from the top and all that entails, a vertical arrangement. In the Creative Economy, “the management ideology is horizontal. The central goal of the organization is to delight the user or customer. The values are enablement, self-organization and continuous improvement to add value to the user or customer.”
Writing in Forbes magazine, Mr. Denning cuts a much wider swath than those of us under the interminable tail of the blogosphere, so it is nice to see one’s own ideas bolstered, however different Denning’s terms might be from mine. I have been making noises for many years about leading from the middle, the unboss, freedom at work, and the democratic workplace, perhaps most persuasively in "The Dog Under Your Desk" from February of 2014.
Besides nomenclature, Mr. Denning and I differ on the compatibilities between the traditionalist’s vertical ideology and the creative’s horizontal ideology. For Denning, they are as incompatible as a caterpillar in your Caesar salad. “When you try to plug Agile self-organizing teams into a hierarchical bureaucracy, you get continuing friction. It’s not sustainable. Either the horizontal ideology will take over the organization or the vertical ideology will crush the Agile self-organizing teams.”
Call me cautious, but I am less absolute; indeed, while I may agree with his certainty about the superiority of the horizontal ideology, I see the vertical ideology making a transition – over time - from the hierarchy to something more team-based, moving from top down to across the board.
When I helped introduce a horizontal ideology at work (mid 80s to mid 90s) I got to see just how the vertical and horizontal might clash. And, clash they did. Looking back, the verticals might brag about “crushing” the upstart horizontalists; in reality, a hybrid model survived, I am told. Certain horizontal practices continue, like a rear guard, to be practiced in the Restoration. This is not because of nostalgia; hardly, but because the ideas and practices work: they promote creativity and better decision making, get more work done, please more customers and lead to the all important internal motivators of staff recognition and achievement. Even the crustiest traditionalista could not deny these successes so it would be self destructive to return fully to the sclerotic hierarchy – regardless of how much the traditionalist might miss the good old, top down days. And, the staff, having tasted freedom, would dig in its heels much to the chagrin (and embarrassment) of the leaders of the Restoration. I call this a hybrid organization, a melding of teams and the towering pyramid of boxes, capped by THE Boss. However, a successful hybrid requires a different kind of leader, the unboss, who helps the people who work in the organization make the most of their skills and abilities for the good of the concern.
Unless you are a new organization, (Denning cites Apple, Amazon, Zappos and Zara ) you will have little option but to make the transition from the vertical to the horizontal via a hybrid phase. Just like the S-shaped curve of change, knowing when to jump from a downward curve onto an up-curve is a process of a few years length, preparing the organization for the leap onto the new ascending curve. That’s the hybrid phase, the horizontal AND the vertical.

*Jimmy Buffet’s song came to mind as I thought about Denning’s horizontals and verticals and the requisite changes in attitudes for a trad boss’ apotheosis into an unboss.

© John Lubans 2015

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