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Agile Organizations and World Peace

Agile organizations are partnership organizations that achieve agility through excellence in process management, self organization, and multidisciplinary teamwork.

At first glance, there may seem to be little connection between creating agile organizations and influencing world peace. The connection lies in establishing values that enable effective partnerships with others.

One of the programs on TV I found fascinating was the series, “Connections,” by James Burke that illustrated how events that occurred in history created turning points, which dramatically influenced civilization and created new possibilities, which were widely embraced.

The way we perceive the world influences our actions. In an earlier work Darwin performed on the Galapagos Islands, he observed that birds with longer beaks were better able to obtain food than birds with shorter beaks. The way he perceived the world led him to see this as supportive of the view that life involved competition for survival, and the development of attributes that enhanced survival such as long beaks, enabled one species to win the evolutionary competition. However, later studies with different observers perceived the situation with the same birds differently. These more in-depth studies indicated that when food was plentiful the birds with longer beaks fed freely on all available food. However, when food was scarce, the birds with longer beaks went for the food that was accessible only to them, leaving the food that could be reached by the birds with shorter beaks for them so they could survive. It illustrated cooperation in nature rather than competition.

The predominant paradigm upon which corporate success is based has been founded upon the atomistic view of the world, which stresses competition at the corporate level and at the personal level. This paradigm has been very successful; the fittest survive very well and many are barely surviving.

In her book, The Chalice and the Blade, Riane Eisier documents that there are only two prevalent models upon which social structures have been based: one she refers to as the “domineering model,” and the other the “partnership model”. In the domineering model, a hierarchy of power was established and individuals jockeyed for prestige and position within the power structure. However, to do so, they had to demonstrate allegiance to organizational leaders with positional power. To a large degree, people had specific roles within the domineering organization and specialized at these roles, and as a result, the system worked well in handling increasingly complex technology and products. Peter Drucker gave the name “command and control” to this type of organization. It worked well in relatively stable times.

I ask the question, why was the domineering approach more successful in our increasingly complex technological society than the partnership alternative that had worked in other times and other places? I answer this question by saying that the work environment in early twentieth century organizations favored this approach. Organizational managers were given the opportunity to understand the big picture and to integrate daily work. Also, societal culture encouraged people to develop specialized competencies and compete with each other to succeed. Many professionals lacked the people skills to work effectively together to a common purpose without the command-and-control direction of superiors. Another problem in successfully implanting the partnership organization was the availability of current, relevant and accurate information upon which to base decisions and actions. These were some of the factors that resulted in the dominance of the command-and-control model in business and industry, and this paradigm has influenced our actions in other areas, including education, politics, and international relationships.

It has become increasingly apparent that factors such as an increasingly competitive marketplace and rapid changes in technology require 21st century organizations to adapt continually to changing circumstances. The ability to achieve this adaptation is not built into the specialty-based command-and-control organizational structures that served us well in the past. What is needed to be competitive in today’s marketplace is often referred to as organizational agility, which is the ability to adapt the way work is done to changing circumstances so as to increase the organization’s performance.

The competencies required for organizational agility are those that are required for partnership. Individuals need to be able to see the big picture, so any changes are undertaken with an awareness of the impact on the whole. People need skills to work together effectively for the benefit of the organization as a whole and they need relevant current and accurate information to support decision making. Agile organizations require the individual organizational habits advocated by Stephen Covey, the competencies advocated by Peter Senge, and the adaptation of the new philosophy advocated by W. Edwards Deming. Agile organizations are partnership organizations and their culture and way of being are radically different than the traditional command-and-control organizations of the twentieth century.

Agile organizations rely on process management to provide the framework for achieving agility. Process management and self-organization require current, relevant and valid information. Information technology has been used in the past to enable top-down command and control processes to constrain self-organization, a strategy that supports the domineering model but inhibits the partnership model. Information technology’s future lies in enabling organizing agility.

Building agile organizations requires a shift of thinking from competition to cooperation for the common good. I suggest this shift in thinking as it pervades our educational system and our political system will influence the way we view the world and in doing so enable us to be proactive contributors to areas that influence peace and harmony at a local level and a global level.