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Organizing over Organization

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In the coming years we will see less organizations, but not less organizing, said Jaap Peters. Organizing is a daily activity to get things done, but we don’t necessarily need organizations to do things. When individuals are subordinate to the organization, it's an inhibitor for adopting modern management approaches.

Jaap Peters, organisation activist at DeLimes | New Organizing spoke about Organizational Development at the Agile Consortium Belgium 2017 conference. InfoQ is covering this conference with Q&As, summaries and articles.

If you want to be agile, yet you still have a traditional organizational model in your head, it won’t work, said Peters. Changing the organization is changing the conversation about the organization.

InfoQ interviewed Jaap Peters about the differences between organization and organizing, and asked him to describe the Rhineland Model and explain how organizations can adopt it for developing products. InfoQ also asked Peters about inhibitors for adopting modern management approaches in organizations, how to reduce or remove them, and what he expects the future to bring us when it comes to managing people.

InfoQ: What are the main differences between organization and organizing?

Jaap Peters: For starters, organizing is a daily activity and we don’t necessarily have to rely on organizations for this. As a matter of fact, we are the ones handing over mission, vision and core values as is if they were commonplace, while in fact, they are valuable resources designed for those who want to achieve a common goal. It is not so difficult to imagine that a professional cyclist or a professional cycling team share a common ambition. At the same time, it seems to be somewhat absurd to associate mission, vision and core values with the resource in question, namely a bicycle.

Secondly, organizations, and especially those with hierarchal structures, often lack the skills to organize. They are usually set up as silos which operate as individual units alongside each other, and communicate in top down fashion, holding onto the notion of top and middle managers. As if to say that the lower end lacks bottom managers with directives, who are available and capable to deliver tailored solutions.

Thirdly, traditional organizations also tend to rely on planning & control patterns, where the word "reality" is non- existent. As long as the planning is met, the concept of reality becomes irrelevant, like some kind of embedded "defeat devices" software used in the recent diesel gate scandal.

InfoQ: Can you describe the Rhineland Model?

Peters: Let’s compare the Rhineland Model with "traditional" Anglo-Saxon Organizations:

  1. Anglo-Saxon Organization
    In these types of organizations, skilled professionals or specialists, are answerable to managers in accordance to a well established chain of command.
  2. Rhineland Organizations
    In Rhineland organizations, skilled professionals run the show, and the (specialists) at the frontlines receive support from the rearguard or back office (horizontal or level approach).

InfoQ: How can organizations adopt this approach for developing products?

Peters: Let’s be perfectly clear on this issue: organizations are thought up, abstract and intangible constructions (unable to touch, taste or smell). IT offers an opportunity to communicate, horizontally for those individuals with ambitions to achieve something together. Often enough, WhatsApp is all you will need.

For instance, the Netherlands has, among many services, something called Part-Up (Permanent Start-up) which provides great opportunities. At the Agile Consortium event, I presented some additional alternatives.

In the Netherlands, we are seeing an increase of so called "cooperatives" or "joined collaboration" where individuals of different organizations work together to keep the Rotterdam train station safe (City wardens, the Police, Railway Police, International Police (Thalys), Parking wardens and specialized detective units) fully embracing the agile principle by working in interchangeable teams to handle incidents as they occur using only a community funded portable phone to link up when needed.

InfoQ: Which inhibitors for adopting modern management approaches have you seen in organizations?

Peters: I regret to say this, but it’s the idea that the individual is subordinate to the organization ( System First, Taylor in 1911 ), instead of leaving room for skilled professionals to emancipate themselves, and participate as human beings within the organization. They have reduced themselves as a "human resource" to be directed by managers. One shivers at the thought that those who work for Apple, Tesla or Google would only do what they were told.

InfoQ: How can those inhibitors be reduced or removed?

Peters: In The Matrix (1999) you had the red pill for this. But that was just a movie. Skilled professionals might be better off if they would submit their resignation and then together establish an employee or workers cooperative (similar to Mondragon 2.0 – Spain). We need more Neos. Maybe we should discontinue trying to fix these old organizations, and just start afresh.

InfoQ: What do you expect that the future will bring us when it comes to managing people?

Peters: Managing / Management is a waste of time. More or less a daytime activity for the higher educated who enjoy thinking for others. Presently we find ourselves in an "Interim" or "Interval" period...

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