How Organizations SHOULD Work
As you have grown your career from individual contributor, to manager, to manager of managers, to executive, have you ever looked at your organization and wondered why people are struggling to work together? Or why work is queuing up in certain teams? I know I did. I naturally gravitated towards trying to figure out a better way and it usually ended up with moving around the boxes and lines on an org chart. But that always seemed to just move the existing problems around to a new group, or sometimes even created a new and different set of problems. There had to be a better way.
That is when I ran into organizational theorist N. Dean Meyer and learned that there is actually a science to how organizations work. In his latest book, How Organizations Should Work, Meyer explains how to create the organization of your dreams based on that science. He helps you document your vision, and then figure out how to get your organization from here to there.
Meyer’s book is written as a business novel, from the perspective of a CEO named Carlton. Carlton is going on a field trip to learn about how to set up his next organization. Through a series of meetings, he explores the book’s framework for an innovative organizational operating model, where the hierarchy houses a network of empowered internal entrepreneurs. Dubbed the "Market Organization," the book explores every detail of how such an organization works.
Meyer's vision for how organizations should work is compelling. Internal entrepreneurs have a clarity of purpose and clear accountabilities (with the authorities to match). Teamwork and cross-boundary processes are crisp, flexible and agile. Resources are dynamically aligned with strategies. And there are creative opportunities in every job. I am sure many of you will look at your organizations and wish they worked like this, just like I did as I was reading the book.
The book is not without controversy. Meyer tackles head on some common beliefs like
- Structure follows strategy,
- innovation requires skunk-works, and
- business units should be autonomous.
He also challenges the value of conventional team-building, process reengineering and governance through steering committees. In every case, he offers alternatives that make a lot of sense.
The nice thing about this book is that it doesn’t just paint a pretty picture about how organizations should work, but it also gives you concrete steps you can take to achieve this vision. The book provides solid design principles and participative change processes for principle-based organizational structure, dynamic cross-boundary teamwork, non-bureaucratic resource-governance processes and an entrepreneurial culture.
There's a lot here; this is not a short, "one minute" type of book. But it's an easy, even fun, read. And if you're impatient with the story, there's a book summary at the back, neatly cross-referenced into the text.
If you are a new executive, this book will give you the basics to turbocharge your career. If you consider yourself already to be a transformational leader, this book will certainly stimulate your thinking; and it should help you refine and document your vision of the organization you intend to build, and chart a road-map to get there.
As Meyer says, stop being a cog in the machine; instead, be the designer of the machine. There's no doubt that following Meyer's advice will be a leadership adventure you and your team will never forget.
Here at Lead Read Today, we endeavor to take an objective (rational, scientific) approach to analyzing leaders and leadership. All opinion pieces will be reviewed for appropriateness, and the opinions shared are solely of the author and not representative of The Ohio State University or any of its affiliates.
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