Friday, May 13, 2011

It's Puzzling, Isn't It?

An organization is a social arrangement to distribute tasks for a collective goal. The word itself is derived from the Greek word organon, itself derived from the better-known word ergon - as we know `organ` - and it means ‘a compartment for a particular job’. - Wikipedia

We often think that the components of an organization fit together like a puzzle.  Each piece consisting of clearly defined work, interconnected seamlessly to the others around them, forming a coherent whole and framed with rigid and linear boundaries.

But nothing could be farther than the truth

Work is no longer easily compartmentalized; this isn’t an assembly line.  The mental model comes out of an industrial economy and I question its relevance in a knowledge based one.   I would argue that we don’t have soft edges at all, but rather that ...

We are all a little rough around the edges

An increasingly diverse workforce coupled with an increasingly diverse scope of work means our organizational models have to contend with increasingly jagged edges, wider gaps and unforeseen overlaps.  Upon closer reflection, my gut tells me that if we took the time to examine our organizational structures more closely we would find conflict at the jagged edges, delays at the gaps, and duplication at the overlaps.  

We might also find that organizations interested in improving their productivity shouldn't focus narrowly on improving the efficiency of the individuals within the organization, but rather on smoothing the harsh edges between them.  In my mind, that means improving communication between actors (e.g. individuals, organizations, levels of government).  This line of reasoning is based on the argument that productivity gains don't materialize when individuals work harder, but rather when they work better together.  

Clear communication is the key to greater efficiency, and while the diffusion of enabling technologies may help, ultimately it is a culture of communication that will deliver organizations significant improvements to productivity because even the highest performer is undermined by friction at the margins of their work.  

This was originally published by Nick Charney on, feel free to connect with him on LinkedIn or add his blog to your Facebook.

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