What if the future of organizations was SOO (or SPO) ?

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The idea of this post came to me after a meeting with someone working for the French Armament Comission, a few month ago. When he asked me “do you know what our job is ?” I answered, hesitant, “Choose the weapons the army will use”. “It’s a bit of that, but it’s more complex”. “Really ?”

Initially, I believed that the army what what it is (ie navy, airforce etc…) and the only point was to built the needed weapons, planes, ships, in order to provide people with what they need to do their job. In fact things were not that simple.

They don’t provide the existing structure with tools, they respond to identified issues with ad-hoc systems. What does it mean ? They identifie potential issues, threats and build a response in terms of systems. A system is the interaction between people, tools and an operating mode. None of this component has sense by himself regardless of all others and the issue.

This makes a big difference with the way companies behave.

Companies never think in terms of system but in terms of maintaining the existing organization. People are carried along by a top-down flow that tells them what to do. In order to maximize people’s productivity, the flow makes everything possible to use all their times and prevent them from doing anything else than what has been planed. In a predictable world this is the perfect system and it’s the basis of taylorism. But what happens when unpredictable things happen ? People have to swim againt the flow, which, said differently, means fight agains their organization to do their job.

In fact people experience the gap between planification driven activities and issues driven activies. As the army build its structure starting from the issues, companies’ structure has not changed for decades and keep trying to meet new challenges without changing anything in the way people work.

The point is knowledge economy is characterized not by stability but by disruption and unpredictability. More and more people’s daily concerns are about solving problems and bringing answer. But problems and questions don’t come from the top but from the bottom. People have to built temporary systems in order to do their job, to achieve their assigned goals.

And what would be a system in this context ? The answer is : people – information – interaction. Anyone in the organization must be able to find information, people and make people interact together, in order to solve problems, using the information.

As the army is considering people, operating modes and tools (weapons, ships etc…) as a global integrated solution to respond to an issue, companies consider people and tools as fuel to feed the structure. In the first case issues drives the organization, in the second the organization is the issue by itself regardless to the fact companies are playing a competitive game which rules are decided outside its wall and which companies have to deal with.

It’s amazing to consider that our armies have totally change the way they operate in the 50 last years. It’s logical beaucause the context is not the same, threats have changed, battlefields and enemies are not the same. In the same time as the economic context has dramatically changed too, Taylor has not been burried so far.

Perhaps it explains why CIA had so many things to say at the last enteprise 2.0 conference last week and why companies seems to be perfectly applying a self sabotage mechanism.

The big issue in the coming years will be to reconcile the essential top down structuring system with the necessity for people to build temporary ad-hoc systems in order to solve problems.

Such a system would consist of identifying and mobilizing the needed people and competences in order to solve any problem in a distributed organization, on topics needing a so high expertise granularity that they can’t be treated by one persson. It’s a temporary system relying on interactions between few people and that last only the time of the needed interactions (one hour, one day, one week).

In a few words (this is raw material…I give you my thought as they come…)

• Such a system allow to have issue driven activities

• It’s an excellent example of subsidiarity.

• It saves people’s time because they don’t have to swim agains the flow anymor. It saves managers’ time too.

• Matches the very nature of distributed companies in the knowledge economy : companies where everyone supports everynone and where probleme are solved collectively.

• Brings the needed adhocratic dimension within the enterprise.

• Is fully compatible with hierarchy. It’s not one or the other but both depending on the moment.

• Amène la dose d’adhocratie nécessaire à l’entreprise de ce début de XXIe sicèle

• Allow to think global and act local.

And what about costs and ROI ? A few ideas :

– who asks the ROI of supports functions as financial or HR ? They’re necessary because they support the rest of the organizaton. In our model, everybody supports everybody.

– it’s a matter of local costs (the time people give to help others) versus global benefit.

– would be nicely support by a google-innovation-like system : we consider people have to give x% of their time to support others. Anyway, you won’t make people collaborate if you wan them not to spend a single minute to collaborate).

It’s very close to wirearchy, isn’t it ? In fact it’s wirearchy, the only puprose here is to show why this kind of organization is the only able to face impredictability which is the daily knowledge workers’ companion and allow collective intelligence problems to emerge in order to solve problems.

As a conclusion it’s an organization model which, without contesting the hierarchical model makes it possible for everyone to mobilize competences and access relevant information in order to achieve one’s daily tasks. It has to be supported by a relevant infrastructure that makes connections and interactions possible : an enterprise social network.

It may look like this. Each star represents someone who has a problem to solve, yellow points represent the needep comptences/people, lines represent interactions and the arrow the structuring top-down flows.

By the way, why SOO ? It’s of course an allusion  to SOA because I find the concept of Service Oriented Organization very eloquent. But, as I talked about that with some people, another term was suggested to me : SPO for Solution Providing Organization, because it’s the kind of organization that provide people with a problem solving framework. Following this idea, managers would become “solution providers”, people who succeed by making people succeed.

Does it inspires you any thought