The Busting Bureaucracy Hackathon

Phase 3: Ideas for Busting Bureaucracy (Part 1)
chris-grams's picture

Phase 2 Synthesis: Imagining the Post-Bureaucratic Organization

By Chris Grams on May 27, 2014

During Phase 2 of the Busting Bureaucracy hackathon, we worked together to imagine and define the attributes of the post-bureaucratic organization: what new management practices might provide an alternative to the bureaucratic model of top-down control and formal rules and procedures?

Co-authored by Michele Zanini

During Phase 2 of the Busting Bureaucracy hackathon, we worked together to imagine and define the attributes of the post-bureaucratic organization: what new management practices might provide an alternative to the bureaucratic model of top-down control and formal rules and procedures? 

We’ve synthesized the over 75 contributions from the hackathon team into eight categories, summarized below:


1. Serve peers and customers—not the boss

In the traditional bureaucratic structure, employees are accountable to their bosses, who are accountable to their bosses, and so on up the management chain. This adds a lot of management overhead, delays decision-making, and encourages politics.  It’s time to break the tight bond between accountability and the organizational hierarchy. The post-bureaucratic organization is defined by broader perspectives like:

  • peer-to-peer accountability
  • customer obsession

Gary Hamel kicked things off with his suggestion that “associates get real-time feedback on their performance from customers and peers, which enables self-management instead of manager-management.”

Peter Blackman suggests we “remove the link between 'individual' performance and reward, and instead replace it with team goals and equal reward for all.” In this model, “everyone gets the same reward if goals are achieved, nobody gets anything if they are not” and “suddenly the company dynamic changes and everyone uses their 'strengths' to best help the team / company meet the desired goal / outcome.”

Graham Douglas wonders whether customer-based accountability might take some of the destructive competition out of the workplace. He recommends building “a customer focused culture of collaboration which enables each person to perform at their best instead of the pervading culture of competition in bureaucracies which encourages people to devote energy and talent to beating someone else in the organization at the expense of optimizing customer value.”

Frank Calberg makes a bold suggestion, asking “what do you think about having customers decide and have a say in how much people are paid?”

And Sean Schofield suggests filling the empty chair of the customer. He explains: “Jeff Bezos apparently keeps an empty chair in the boardroom to represent the customer; to, roughly speaking, inspire those present to ask questions and explore needs on behalf of those absent. To break bureaucracy, fill the empty chair. Make the customer visible, and present in tight feedback loops such that whatever is being provided or produced is about the consumer/client/customer/audience.”


2. Break up monolithic structures

We live in a dynamic world—and organizations must be able to fluidly reconfigure capabilities, infrastructure, and resources in order to morph along with it. But it’s tough to move quickly when you’re stuck in a box. The rigid unit boundaries, functional silos, and political fiefdoms that define bureaucratic organizations hamper the rapid realignment of skills and assets. And the bigger the box, the bigger the danger. Large organizational units with hundreds or thousands of employees often lead to groupthink on a grand scale. The hacking team focused on such fixes as:

  • experimenting with approaches to making big feel small
  • creating fluid, project-based structures

Thomas Clifford notes that, when it comes to the challenges of setting direction for large organizations quickly and intelligently “one possible solution is breaking large companies into smaller ones that focus on certain markets or industries, each with their own business model and systems of tracking and evaluating performance.”

Erwin Pfuhler suggests organizations consider “creating spin-offs with every major innovation…. In the course of time there could be a lot of spin-offs which could network with their mother companies and the other spin-offs as it is feasible for them. Every spin-off could give birth to another spin-off itself. A new structure should emerge that way. They enjoy the freedom to choose what core services (like HR, accounting etc.) they want to share,” he says.


3. Give everyone a place at the table

In too many organizations, information hoarding is the rule and decision-making is an elite activity. What if the process for solving problems and making decisions was opened up to truly involve people inside (and relevant stakeholders outside) the organization? The hackers suggested harnessing many of the tools and principles of open platforms for:

  • online idea brainstorming, voting, and prioritization
  • “buying” and “selling” ideas to determine their value, e.g. an “ideas market”

Frank Calberg wonders what would happen “if people [could] vote, regularly, on all kinds of issues—like in Switzerland.” In another contribution, he suggests “using IT / social media / crowdsourcing platforms [to allow people from the outside] to help out with a variety of tasks - including operational tasks and innovation challenges.”

Isik Deliorman Aydin recommends considering “collective and collaborative strategic direction setting” with “project based organizations led by project leaders” who don’t manage, but instead “[lead] the way, guiding and coaching people towards same goals.”

Linda Poisseroux recognizes the need to create an environment where “everyone is free to contribute and participate without fear” and suggests crowdsourcing with technology may provide an answer. “These crowdsourcing initiatives could form the beginning of a safer, more participatory environment which encourages, values and rewards employee contributions. The crowdsourcing platform would provide employees with an outlet to reveal their talents and ideas that may otherwise have been overlooked,” she says.


4. Radically expand the scope of employee autonomy

Freedom isn’t a perk you earn after paying your dues—it’s increasingly a basic right of all working people. And, just as important, it’s a powerful strategy for unleashing the full imagination, initiative, and passion of every individual in the organization—when paired with crucial accountability (to peers, to customers, to the broader mission of the organization). With its rigid policy guidelines, tight spending limits, and lack of self-directed time, bureaucracy kills initiative and dampens passion—crucial ingredients for adaptable and innovative organizations. Our hackathon team shared ideas for how companies might redesign management systems so they:

  • push P&L responsibility and the ability to resolve trade-offs as deep in the organization as possible
  • encourage bottom-up initiatives

Paul Cesare makes the suggestion that “those doing the work need to have responsibility for managing the work. What is required...is the reintegration of managing the work with doing the work. This is empowerment. This is partnership. This is the right use of power,” he says.

Tadas Karkalas sees the imperative “to have employees who work as if they were business owners, who make common sense decisions and constantly strive to achieve more, better results for their customers.”

Miguel Veloso suggests “decentralizing decisions from one or a few all-mighty managers to several ‘area or subject experts,’ where each one has final say on her/his area/subject.”

Charles Ehin suggests developing “more shared-access systems [where] all organizational members have considerable autonomy in decision making and in resource allocations including hiring and firing of people. In a shared-access system, expertise and value-added facilitation are the dominant dynamics instead of position power,” he says.

Julian Wilson says that organizations should “devolve accounts measures down to individual level [with a] Profit & Loss and Balance Sheet on each individual. Each person should be able to demonstrate the part of the organisation’s assets and liabilities that they are responsible for, and the income and expenditure they produce from them. Remuneration and reward should be significantly based upon these metrics…”


5. Create meritocracies where influence is based on contribution, not credentials

Most organizations are ruled by a simple formula: position and tenure = power. And most people understand that true leadership is not a function of where you sit, but what you can do. It’s time to fundamentally rethink and redistribute the work of leadership in order to maximize the ratio of accomplishment over authority.  In the post-bureaucratic organization, leaders are defined not by title or tenure, but by:

  • how effectively they contribute to the mission
  • how much value they create for the organization

Phil Weinzimer recommends we “recognize people by value and not by role” and that we “form teams of personnel, each with an equal voice, working together to solve business challenges and achieve business outcomes. Productive teams succeed based upon individual contributions not by the role or title they have,” he says.

Achim Muellers suggests we “don't pay for attendance but reward people for performance, i.e. dump the 9-5 model.”

And Frank Calberg wonders if there “would there be better or worse leadership, if leaders of projects / communities / departments / companies are chosen by people they want to lead?”


6. Provide open access to real-time information

Bureaucracies control information in order to control people. Yet the costs of information hoarding are quickly becoming untenable. Companies must build rich information and data access tools and processes that give every employee a 3-D view of the organization, its people, and its activities—including critical performance metrics and key priorities. Our hackathon team shared ideas that promoted:

  • open access to information and goals
  • giving everyone a role in creating and sharing data across the organization

Frank Calberg asks us what great things could happen “if as much information as possible is shared openly?”

Javier Crespo envisions a world “where organizations create a culture of openness; thus constantly providing current conditions around the business; actions needed to repair, maintain, or improve the business, and needs as a forecasting or facilitating tool. Broadly, conditions, actions, and needs provide a quick assessment of the situations at hand, allowing agility of information sharing while providing at the same time a view of current actions and the need for solutions in the form of needs.” According to Javier, this would “create a directional path towards problem identification and solving, where team members have a clear understanding of the situation and work together through facilitation rather than top down management.”

Gary Hamel suggests “control is achieved through shared objectives and transparency rather than through air-tight rules and oversight,” and imagines an organization where “everyone gets to see the big picture as trends and developments around the world get tagged and shared across the enterprise.”


7. Drive performance through a shared sense of purpose and community

As an emotional catalyst, shareholder wealth maximization lacks the power to fully mobilize human energies. Individuals are hungry for a compelling answer to the question, “What’s worth my life?” A compelling sense of purpose—a set of distinctive and deeply-felt values—moves, motivates, and aligns people more powerfully than the most tightly-designed controls. Companies must make (and continue to make) a strong case for:

  • why what they do matters
  • why people should band together as a community to support them

Juliet Hammond suggests we should “share the vision and goals, hire for aligned values, then enable and empower people to deliver.”

Gary Hamel envisions “boundary-spanning ‘communities of passion’ [that] spontaneously self-assemble around promising initiatives with little need for top-down direction.”

And both Edna Pasher and Frank Calberg wonder if a culture change could create a greater sense of community. Edna suggests “a ‘Bravo’ and ‘Thank you’ culture replace the command and control culture,” and Frank asks “what would change if people praised each other more / more often.”

Sean Schofield suggests creating a “non-company.” He explains: “Perhaps instead of fixing a broken system inside a company, it is easier to not have to require one. Amazon's Mechanical Turk, crowdsourced protein folding, and sites like taskrabbit are proof positive alignment of interested people to achieve common goal is entirely possible. So, let's scale the idea up to create the non-company - a completely organic system of interrelated goals achieved by the alignment of interested people. Imagine a nation of free agents, collaborating on a connected set of projects in concert, for a commonly held purpose.”


8. Ditch formality

Meetings, memos, PPT, reports, ritualistic processes… The bland-on-bland formality of corporate life chokes off the oxygen and energy that feeds innovation and progress. The hackers were eager to throw off the chains of process, procedure and comportment by:

  • minimizing formal rules and procedures
  • creating flexible and organic processes, functions, and spaces

Edna Pasher suggested “replacing boring and useless meetings with PowerPoint presentations by ‘liberating structures’ such as ‘knowledge cafes’ and ‘open space’ where authentic conversations create collective wisdom.

Aaron Anderson recommends scrapping performance reviews. “Eliminating the annual performance appraisal should free up more of your time to work with employees instead on an annual professional development plan that is useful and used across a full fiscal year to advance your employees. Supervisors and managers should know how well their employees are performing. If there are problems, they should be documented when they occur, not once a year in the annual appraisal. If a person is doing well, you should be rewarding that behavior in real time, otherwise you risk losing the chance to amplify the good and deflate the bad,” he says. 

Huda Al Midani asked what would happen if “we bust the organizational rules and procedures, reengineered the business functions so that only few rules are kept and those not contributing much are busted and replaced with guides and shared understanding?”


There you have it: Eight categories of new management practices that we found in your submissions during Phase 2.

In Phase 3, we’ll begin to explore these categories more deeply, identifying specific “mini hacks”—radical, yet practical ideas— that might bring these new management practices to life in our organizations. We look forward to seeing your contributions.

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paul-cesare_1's picture

These eight (8) attributes of the post bureaucratic organization are not only brilliant in content, but more importantly from my perspective, most noble in character!
This work in progress and process is so important because it generates the capacity to positively affect and dramatically transform the lives of millions of human beings throughout the world.

Liked by Frank Calberg
mila-baker's picture

Work Experience (WE) + Work Design/Environment (WDE) + Leadership (L) = Maximum Organization Success in Peer to Peer Network Community. This is the framework put forth by Mila Baker, in the new book Peer to Peer Leadership. Why the Network is the Leader. The peer to peer network community is a new organizational architecture designed for the 21st century that integrates work experience, work design and leadership into an interlocking system of dynamic, relational connections or equipotent nodes. The WDE is the element of org architecture that defines the spatial aspect of the workplace and include public spaces and private places. The work design and work environment is designed for maximum productivity, collaboration and conversation and transparency. Designed to enable a workflow that requires dynamic movement of people and information - powered by technology.
The WE or work experience defines how the members of the community work together to accomplish the organization's purpose, mission and goals. In a peer to peer network community members work as 'providers' and 'receivers' of information and assets - similar to peer to peer IT architecture. Each member has equal responsibility, authority and power to be a supplier AND a consumer - everyone gives and takes.

To achieve success in peer to peer network community, organizations must achieve four levels of organization development: Level 1: Clarity and commitment of purpose and mission beyond monetary return to shareholders; Level 2 - a mutual and continuous exchange of open input and dialogue among individuals; Level 3 - recognition and reconciliation of polarities, tensions and abstractions (e.g. wicked problems) and their unsolvable nature and importance to deal with both complexities; Level 4 - peer to peer leadership - the catalytic action that occurs when a minimum coalition or dyad of individuals come together to achieve a common goal that is in service of a greater good.

We're researching co-working spaces, companies who are already on this journey and embarking on new research to explore the book concepts more deeply. All the work is based on my observations while working on major change initiatives at Pfizer Inc., Dana Corporation, World Bank. Examples from Starbucks, AirBnB, Giant Hydra, Unilever, Google, SAS and IBM are included in the book.

isik-deliorman-aydin's picture

Project-based working.Rewarding based on various phase of project: ideation, selection of ideas, project development, project implementation, commercialization of ideas, successful results.