AOrganisation is big business. Whether it is of our lives - all those
inboxes and calendars -or how companies are structured, a multi-billion dollar
industry helps to meet this need.
We have more strategies for time management, project management and
self-organisation than at any other time in human history. We are told that we
organise our company, our home life, our week, our day and even our sleep,
all as a means to becoming more productive. Every week, countless seminars and
workshops take place around the world to tell a paying public that they ought to
structure their lives in order to achieve this.
This rhetoric has also crept into the thinking of business leaders and
entrepreneurs, much to the delight of self-proclaimed perfectionists with the
need to get everything right. The number of business schools and graduates has
massively increased over the past 50 years, essentially teaching people how to
BIronically, however, the number of businesses that fail has also steadily
increased. Work-related stress has increased. A large proportion of workers from
all demographics claim to be dissatisfied with the way their work is structured
and the way they are managed.
This begs the question: what has gone wrong? Why is it that on paper the
drive for organisation seems a sure shot for increasing productivity, but in
reality falls well short of what is expected?
CThis has been a problem for a while now. Frederick Taylor was one of the
forefathers of scientific management. Writing in the first half of the 20th
century, he designed a number of principles to improve the efficiency of the
work process, which have since become widespread in modern companies. So the
approach has been around for a while.
DNew research suggests that this obsession with efficiency is misguided.
The problem is not necessarily the management theories or strategies we use to
organise our work; it's the basic assumptions we hold in approaching how we
work. Here it's the assumption that order is a necessary condition for
productivity. This assumption has also fostered the idea that disorder must be
detrimental to organisational productivity. The result is that businesses and
people spend time and money organising themselves for the sake of organising,
rather than actually looking at the end goal and usefulness of such an
EWhat's more, recent studies show that order actually has diminishing
returns. Order does increase productivity to a certain extent, but eventually
the usefulness of the process of organisation, and the benefit it yields, reduce
until the point where any further increase in order reduces productivity. Some
argue that in a business, if the cost of formally structuring something
outweighs the benefit of doing it, then that thing ought not to be formally
structured. Instead, the resources involved can be better used elsewhere.
FIn fact, research shows that, when innovating, the best approach is to
create an environment devoid of structure and hierarchy and enable everyone
involved to engage as one organic group. These environments can lead to new
solutions that, under conventionally structured environments (filled with
bottlenecks in terms of information flow, power structures, rules, and routines)
would never be reached.
GIn recent times companies have slowly started to embrace this
disorganisation. Many of them embrace it in terms of perception ( embracing the
idea of disorder, as opposed to fearing it) and in terms of process (putting
mechanisms in place to reduce structure).
For example, Oticon, a large Danish manufacturer of hearing aids, used what
it called a 'spaghetti' structure in order to reduce the organisation's rigid
hierarchies. This involved scrapping formal job titles and giving staff huge
amounts of ownership over their own time and projects. This approach proved to
be highly successful initially, with clear improvements in worker productivity
in all facets of the business.
In similar fashion, the former chairman of General Electric embraced
disorganisation, putting forward the idea of the 'boundary less' organisation.
Again, it involves breaking down the barriers between different parts of a
company and encouraging virtual collaboration and flexible working. Google and a
number of other tech companies have embraced (at least in part) these kinds of
flexible structures, facilitated by technology and strong company values which
glue people together.
HA word of warning to others thinking of jumping on this bandwagon: the
evidence so far suggests disorder, much like order, also seems to have
diminishing utility, and can also have detrimental effects on performance if
overused. Like order, disorder should be embraced only so far as it is useful.
But we should not fear it - nor venerate one over the other.This research also
shows that we should continually question whether or not our existing