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Entering the 21st Century

Page history last edited by Mark 10 years, 1 month ago

 

Entering the 21st Century

 

The 21st century begins with the challenge of making sense of two, parallel discourses that take up diametric polarities. On one hand, the functionalist, instrumental, managerially oriented recitation of 20th century organizational history tends to reinforce the bureaucratic, administratively controlled, hierarchical (BAH) organization as the optimal means to respond to the myriad challenges of the contemporary world. Elliot Jaques (1990) praises hierarchy, and lauds managerial capacity, knowledge, and stamina as natural justification for subordinates to accept the boss’s authority. Concurrently, the critical management literature (Barker, 1993; Barrett, 2004; Gee, Hull & Lankshear, 1996; Jones, 2003; Ogbor, 2001; Wilson, 1995) decry the ways in which the managerialist discourse manipulates, subjugates, oppresses, and alienates those who occupy (particularly the lower strata within) that hierarchy.

 

On the other hand, the humanist, relational, collaborative story that begins with Mary Parker Follett and leads to writers such as William Kraus, and Paul Adler and Charles Heckscher, describes a very different history, and very different framing of organizational outcome. In the Adler and Heckscher volume (2006), there are a number of examples from various contributing authors that describe specific organizational behaviours (mostly of groups within larger organizations) that correspond to aspects of their ideal-type, collaborative organization. There is even a description of what is referred to as a “Strategic Fitness Process” (Heckscher & Foote, 2006) that claims to engender the collective leap of faith required to begin the transition from traditional, BAH, behavioural and attitudinal norms to unifying strategies based on knowledge, trust, and trans-boundary initiatives[1].

 

Relative to the entire 3,000-year history of organization and its epochal transitions, it is not surprising that one can construct two distinct, but necessarily related and entwined, organizational histories of the 20th century. The first tells a story that is the very logical, linear, and sequentially causal extrapolation of what began in the Middle Ages and evolved primarily through the Enlightenment period to modernity. The second story is emergent from the complexity that characterizes conditions of ubiquitous connectivity and pervasive proximity—UCaPP. These conditions are not only prevalent in the contemporary world but, as I contend at the beginning of this chapter, dominate the structuring forces of human interaction among those societal institutions that govern, educate, facilitate commerce, and foster artistic reflection on complex, interacting cultures today.

 

If history provides any guidance whatsoever, it is likely that, in retrospect, these two stories will be cast in the context of yet a third, integrative story in a manner consistent with what Roger Martin calls “the opposable mind” (Martin, 2007). As Martin suggests, that third story would imagine a new way to frame those parallel and opposing narratives, speaking to organization in a way that is consistent with the UCaPP world into which the 21st century is transforming, while simultaneously making sense of the parallel discourses. This thesis aspires to be at least among the first telling of that third story, and seeks to discover two things. First, the 20th century literature outlined throughout this chapter describes various external attributes, individuals’ behaviours and interactions, and general managerial characteristics of two organization types: those that can be characterized as predominantly BAH; and those that Kraus (1980), and Heckscher and Adler (2006) call collaborative (that may well possess many more distinguishing characteristics, of which collaboration is but one), which I call UCaPP organizations. This thesis will describe some of the key differentiating aspects of the internal dynamics between these two organizational types by exploring the question, what are the key characteristics that distinguish BAH and UCaPP organizations in their respective attitudes, behaviours, characteristics, cultures, practices, and processes?

 

Second, as an early version of that third story, this thesis will address a more foundational question: is there an over-arching model that can account for both BAH and UCaPP organizations and distinguish among them? I intend to propose a theory that unifies both forms of organizational behaviour, BAH and UCaPP. It will additionally offer a model of praxis that will help those in either type of organization to create a better understanding of contemporary organizational dynamics for more effective decision making and organizational transformation that is consistent with the dynamics and complexities of the UCaPP world.

 

 


[1] The SFP as described by Heckscher and Foote is a semi-proprietary consulting methodology that is a facilitated amalgam of action research and David Bohm’s process of dialogue (Bohm, Factor, & Garrett, 1991), with a smattering of polarity management (Johnson, 1992). It is an example of what I refer to later as a culture change venue within an organization. These methods are also addressed throughout the literature on organizational learning (Argyris & Schön, 1978; Laiken, 2002b; Senge, 1990; Webb, Lettice & Lemon, 2006).

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