is calling for an end to Taylorism as a management doctrine. "Humans have become cogs in business machinery pursuing efficiency," he writes. If you think that sounds radical, last year Wall Street Journal editor Allan Murray wrote a piece titled "The End of Management" decrying hierarchy, bureaucracy and encouraging business leaders to embrace change.Gartner Research VP Mike Rollings
But Rollings and Murray are contributing nothing new. It's a rallying cry that has been heard for decades. Enterprise 2.0 and social business proponents like to talk about breaking down silos, flattening organizational structures and making work meaningful again. I know I do. But we're fooling ourselves if we think these are new ideas.
Replacing Taylorism as our Management Doctrine
Rollings' article isn't bad. He's completely right. It's just that this is a case that's been made many times before. Here's another example: a recent piece in Inc. by 37Signals co-founder Jason Fried: "Why I Run a Flat Company." Comments on Hacker News tended to focus on whether a flat structure is scalable beyond around 25 employees (which seems unlikely), but there's another question to be asked: is this as radical as it sounds?
The Management Myth
In 1983, a Harvard Business School professor, Rosabeth Moss Kanter, beat the would-be revolutionaries of the nineties to the punch when she argued that rigid "segmentalist" corporate bureaucracies were in the process of giving way to new "integrative" organizations, which were "informal" and "change-oriented." But Kanter was just summarizing a view that had currency at least as early as 1961, when Tom Burns and G. M. Stalker published an influential book criticizing the old, "mechanistic" organization and championing the new, "organic" one. In language that eerily anticipated many a dot-com prospectus, they described how innovative firms benefited from "lateral" versus "vertical" information flows, the use of "ad hoc" centers of coordination, and the continuous redefinition of jobs. The "flat" organization was first explicitly celebrated by James C. Worthy, in his study of Sears in the 1940s, and W. B. Given coined the term "bottom-up management" in 1949. And then there was Mary Parker Follett, who in the 1920s attacked "departmentalized" thinking, praised change-oriented and informal structures, and--Rosabeth Moss Kanter fans please take note--advocated the "integrative" organization.
'Social Business' is Past Retirement Age
Andrew McAfee, coiner of the term "enterprise 2.0" touched on this in his post 'Social Business' is Past Retirement Age, making the case for his term instead of the "social business" term. The history lesson was somewhat lost in the greater debate over terminology (see our coverage here).
McAfee (rightly, I think) emphasized that technology is what is fundamentally different today. The point is not to belittle the importance of people, process, strategy, etc., but to consider the truly novel factors that could finally make flat (or at least less mechanistic) organizational structures a reality.
Even the technology isn't terribly new. I was just reading The Art of the Long View by Global Business Network founder Peter Schwartz, published in 1991. Schwartz was raving about how "computer conferencing," using tools such as The WELL, could help create "open," "networked" companies unburdened by hierarchy. I don't doubt that Douglas Engelbart, or at least his peers, were saying similar things decades earlier.
Just like consumerization, enterprise collaboration - formerly known as "groupware" - has been around for decades now. We don't need a "revolution." We need both products and services that stay out of workers' way.