Emerging Organizational Structures: Designing for the Future

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    Consulting and Organization Development - Book Cover

    © Copyright Carter McNamara, MBA, PhD, Authenticity Consulting, LLC.

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    Characteristics of the New Nature of Organizations

    New forms of organizations are geared to make organizations more receptive, adaptive, and generative — always focused on meeting the needs of stakeholders. New forms of organizations often exhibit the following characteristics:

    1. Strong employee involvement
    – input to the system starts from those closest to the outcome preferred by the system, from those most in the know about whether the organization is achieving its preferred outcomes with its stakeholders or not. This way, the organization stays highly attuned and adaptive to the needs of stakeholders.

    2. Organic in nature
    – fewer rules and regulations, sometimes no clear boundaries, and always-changing forms

    3. Authority based on capability
    – ensures the organization remains a means to an end and not an end in itself

    4. Alliances -takes advantage of economies of scale, e.g., collaborations, networks, strategic alliances/mergers, etc.

    5. Teams – shares activities to take advantage of economies of scale at the lowest levels of activities and ensures full involvement of employees at the lowest levels

    6. Flatter, decentralized organizations
    – less middle management, resulting in top management exchanging more feedback with those providing products and services; also results in less overhead costs

    7. Mindfulness of environments, changes, patterns, and themes – priority on reflection and inquiry to learn from experience; develop “learning organizations”

    New Organizational Structures and Design

    Network Structure

    This modern structure includes the linking of numerous, separate organizations to optimize their interaction in order to accomplish a common, overall goal. An example is a joint venture to build a complex, technical system such as the space shuttle. Another example is a network of construction companies to build a large structure.

    Virtual Organization

    This emerging form is based on organization members interacting with each other completely, or almost completely, via telecommunications. Members may never actually meet each other. See Virtual Teams

    Self-Managed Teams

    These teams usually include from 5-15 people and are geared to produce a product or service. Members provide a range of the skills needed to produce the product. The team is granted sufficient authority and access to resources to produce their product in a timely fashion. The hallmark of a self-managed team is that members indeed manage their own group, i.e., they manage access to resources, scheduling, supervision, etc. Team members develop their own processes for identifying and rotating members in managerial roles. Often, authority at any given time rests with whoever has the most expertise about the current activity or task in the overall project. Often members are trained in various problem-solving techniques and team-building techniques. These teams work best in environments where the technologies to deliver the product or service are highly complex and the marketplace and organization environments are continually changing. Self-managed teams pose a unique challenge for the traditional manager. It can be extremely difficult for him or her to support the empowerment of the self-managed team, taking the risk of letting go of his or her own control.

    Learning Organizations

    In an environment where environments are continually changing, it’s critical that organizations detect and quickly correct their own errors. This requires continuous feedback to, and within, the organization. Continual feedback allows the organization to `unlearn’ old beliefs and remain open to new feedback, uncolored by long-held beliefs.

    In a learning organization, managers don’t direct as much as they facilitate the workers’ applying new information and learning from that experience. Managers ensure time to exchange feedback, inquire and reflect on the feedback, and then gain consensus on direction. Peter Senge, noted systems theorist, points out in his book, The Fifth Discipline (Doubleday, 1990, p. 14), that the learning organization is “continually expanding its capacity to create its future … for a learning organization, `adaptive learning’ must be joined by `generative learning,’ learning that enhances our capacity to create.”

    Self-Organizing Systems

    Self-organizing systems have the ability to continually change their structure and internal processes to conform to feedback from the environment. Some writers use the analogy of biological systems as self-organizing systems. Their ultimate purpose is to stay alive and duplicate. They exist in increasing complexity and adapt their structures and forms to accommodate this complexity. Ultimately, they change structure dramatically to adjust to the outer environment. (Some assert that self-managed groups are self-organizing systems, although others assert that self-managed groups are not because an ultimate purpose is assigned to team members).

    A self-organizing system requires a strong current goal or purpose. It requires continual feedback from its surrounding environment. It requires continual reference to a common set of values and dialoguing around these values. It requires continued and shared reflection on the system’s current processes. The manager of this type of organization requires high value on communication and a great deal of patience — and the ability to focus on outcomes rather than outputs. The focus is more on learning than on the method.

    This Article is in a Series About Understanding Organizational Structures and Design

    This article is the eighth in the series which includes:

    1. What is an Organization?
    2. What Makes Each Organization Unique
    3. How They’re the Same: They’re Systems
    4. Basic Overview of Life Cycles in Organizations
    5. Basic Overview of Organizational Culture
    6. Legal Forms and Traditional Structures of Organizations
    7. Driving Forces and a New Organizational Paradigm
    8. Emerging Nature and New Organizational Structures and Design
    9. Basic Guidelines for Organizational Design
    10. Wrap Up: Grasping the Big Picture in Organizations (video)

    Learn More in the Library’s Blogs Related to New Forms of Organizations

    In addition to the articles on this current page, see the following blogs which have posts related to New Forms of Organizations. Scan down the blog’s page to see various posts. Also, see the section “Recent Blog Posts” in the sidebar of the blog or click on “Next” near the bottom of a post in the blog.

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