The Busting Bureaucracy Hackathon


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In the current phase of the hackathon, we’re working to define the attributes of the post-bureaucratic organization—what new management practices can provide an alternative to the bureaucratic model of top-down control and formal rules and procedures?

In a paragraph or less, please share your idea for an alternative approach that could replace an existing bureaucratic management practice (or "like" one or more of the existing contributions below).

Hint: when trying to imagine alternatives, you might find it easier to pick an existing management practice, for example strategy development or performance reviews. Then share a new approach that you believe might more efficiently or effectively replace the existing practice. You can also get some additional context and inspiration by reading Gary Hamel’s latest blog. Please share your ideas by May 16.


christine-grable's picture
Allow people to self-select into "experts", "promoters" and "orchestrators". Experts are rewarded for innovation in a field, breakthrough concepts, research. Orchestrators are rewarded for solving complex issues by leveraging multiple experts' work. Promoters keep everyone informed of what is going on with the experts and how everyone wins by helping the orchestrators do their job. All done virtually. Face-to-face meetings held in "pop up" offices.
After reading all these posts, I was wondering: What about changing the way people learn for the first time about organizations and management? We could start changing the way we teach some subjects in school, faculties and universisties.
I wonder if, when people are sharing ideas, they might talk about the things they've actually tried? That might be helpful and certainly make for more interesting reading for me. As I'm reading the posts, in all fairness, I'm hearing a lot of euphemisms and buzz words, but I'm not hearing the stories of people who are actually out there working at a coal face. Perhaps I have to read more, which I will in time. In my case, I understand that the bureacracy was formed for a reason. I believe Max Weber, noted psychologist spoke at some length about how and why bureaucracies work. And they still work in specific contexts.... mainly for ordered problems (ie non complex). Problem is, until recently we have not distinguished between truly complex (emergent, parts are larger than the whole, co-evolution) and ordered (ie machines) systems, so we have sicked the bureacracy on our ordered and complex problems. And then wondered why the heck our ordered solutions didn't work on our complex problems. I believe Dave Snowden, noted complexity thought leader, calls this 'bounded applicability'. That solutions only work in context, and you have to understand the context (is my problem ordered? is it complex?) or your solution can't scale up or across. So here's my advice. Learn to understand the difference. Work towards efficiencies in your ordered systems (machines), work towards effectiveness in your complex systems.Effectiveness in this case often means that you don't suck all the redundancy out of your complex systems, since you can't predict what's going to happen next in truly complex systems (so for example, no six sigma). You can approach robustness in ordered systems (six sigma good), but not complex systems. There you have to shoot for resilience: the capability to tolerate and recover from failure quickly. This is guts of the new management science coming at you. Have fun!!
By Ray MacNeil on May 26, 2022
miguel-veloso's picture
One late reflexion! We are still going to need some kind of "traditional" managers. I think self management is not for everybody, because you need some kind of specific mind set for that. There's a lot people that are perfectly happy, and even need, the structure, control and guidance of "traditional" management, i.e. people with intellectual disabilities (ID) at one extreme. In the end I think we should strive for an all-inclusive work environment, where people can fulfill their potential, whatever that is, and feel progress and pride at work. Thinking it over, may be it's not so much as "traditional" management, but we still need to keep in mind the needs of other people than just the ones that can self-manage. I think that would be good for all.
By Miguel Veloso on May 18, 2022
Minimum Viable Company. Imagine if the only answer you ever received to "What business are you in?" was "Learning." Bureaucracy is not simply about control, it is about control to get things right - the same way, every time. Unfortunately, "right" is always contextual, always momentary. So what if instead we designed a system to be great at getting things wrong and fixing them. Take the concept of minimum viable product, and change it to minimum viable team, department, company. The idea is to be masters of learning. If all engines of the organization are geared toward being humble about error and what doesn't work / isn't working (e.g., Engineers Without Borders Failure Report), learning from them, and changing, bureaucracy would at least be a work in progress, and eventually, be smoothed out into something that generates vs. eats value.
By Sean Schofield on May 16, 2022
The non-company. We assume companies exist to achieve what individuals cannot. We also assume extra benefits emerge from any group being greater than a simple summation of their individual talents. These might be valid assumptions. However, we also assume nothing really important gets in the way of it being true. Bureaucracy clearly can, and so can other things. 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.
By Sean Schofield on May 16, 2022
Fill the empty chair. As Gary has mentioned, 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.
By Sean Schofield on May 16, 2022
Different metrics. As Clay Christensen speaks about, how you segment your market and how you measure your success near-completely determines who you compete against and what you invest in. So, which metric (or set of metrics) promotes a focus on the "job to be done" and creates a capital equilibrium (between sustaining, efficiency, and innovation investments; such that job creation is the net outcome)? When the metrics naturally promote innovation, a company doesn't need to rely on senior executives to spot opportunities.
By Sean Schofield on May 16, 2022
Crowdsourcing Participation and Engagement. Fear is a huge hindrance to personal and professional change management. One of the biggest barriers to employee engagement and participation is the ‘fear of retribution’. The workplace needs to shift gears into a safer environment where everyone is free to contribute and participate without fear. Technology can help begin this process with the use of online, workplace crowdsourcing initiatives where all employees can contribute to innovation, strategy development and change initiatives and are rewarded for doing so. The crowdsourcing process would begin with topics for idea and concept generation. All members compete with one another and vote to move ideas/concepts into the next higher phase of evaluation and development. This is a quicker and less fearful approach to begin capitalizing on the talents, ideas and thoughts of all employees. There could also be an option that all contributors can remain anonymous until moved into the final phases of idea/concept development. 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. It’s a start.
steven-keith's picture
BUREAUCRACY IS AN EPIDEMIC. The term ‘epidemiologic triad’ is used to describe the intersection of Host, Agent, and Environment in analyzing an outbreak. I argue that the bureaucratic model is an outbreak. What if strategy could more directly help organizations (the host) bolster their defenses against designed corporate antigens (agents: needless bureaucracy, ineffective management, process retardation, and staff disengagement) within their environments? What if you designed antigens like corporate vaccines and "injected" them into the company to help them stimulate antibodies against undesirable effects. It's called defense, and companies rarely think about it. It's fascinating to notice how well the science of immunology and the art of enterprise transformation correspond to one another. To me, science provides the most effective way to set ourselves up to the task of seeing and adapting to the business challenge of inoculating against bureaucracy?
By Steven Keith on May 16, 2022