I’m suspecting that the big hole in Elliott Jaques’s theories are what Francis Fukuyama calls social capital, the level of trust that comes from familial connections or shared culture. This is pretty intuitive, and corresponds to some of the social theory I’ve learned.
What we seem to be missing is the middle piece that combines the two.
Francis Fukuyama doesn’t seem to understand all of hierarchies and Jaques ignores social networks altogether. A real theory of organization would acknowledge both and allow us to better predict those who would succeed in various roles. I’m not sure what the combination would look like, but I know enough people who have a partner or employee whom they can’t fire because “it’s my wife’s cousin”.
Although it seems impractical, these types of social capital relationships can move mountains. There needs to be a marriage of the two ideas, of informal networks — which dominated much of the engineering of the information economy and why you want your company in the midst of every other company in your industry — and formal hierarchies (which I believe that Elliott Jaques understood, amazingly).
Partly because all of this works with my ideas of project management theory: successful project managers must be competent to the Time Span of Discretion (TSD) or time-horizon of the project, which may well extend beyond the project, and they must be connected well-enough to get information about things that may be happening. It may well be, and I suspect it is, that requisite organizations create atmospheres of upward-spiraling social capital (shared norms and trust).
Groups of humans that eschew hierarchy and “organization” are able to try new things in a more creative way. Unfortunately, it takes a very long time to develop the group, and once the norms are in place, they will resist change.
I’m not sure that I am convinced by Argyris’s arguments that Model II behaviour can be taught or that it is necessarily good: there is something about the tacit knowledge embodied in the hiddenness of the undiscussables that may be needed to have a functioning social group. In a way, he is arguing for a rational disruption of norms, an examining of the hidden ways that work gets done. The problems that he identifies may be more readily expressed as a function of the breakdown of the reciprocal gifting and sense-making that should have occurred within the organization.
Changing the structure makes more sense. Attempt to organize in a more natural (requisite) way, eliminating some roles, adding others, so that those in them might have a greater chance to succeed. Requisite Organization then allows employees at all levels to create socially emergent norms of behaviour.
This trust is emergent — it is created “spontaneously” without intervention from the hierarchy. The hierarchy cannot create this trust but it can create rules by which standards of behaviour are known and enforced. However, rules-based control systems are inefficient, much like modern psychotherapy treating our symptoms (depression, relationship failure, etc.) rather than our problem, that of atomized society.
There’s something missing in RO theory, which is described in the ideas of social networks and social capital. There is something missing in social network theory that is described in detail in RO theory.
What is really interesting is that both of these “solutions to the ills of contemporary Western civilization” are socially based, rather than psychologically. Apparently, if you solve the social issues, the psychological issues will, if not disappear (not in this fallen world), at least become manageable rather than entrenched.
- The Great Disruption: Human Nature and the Reconstitution of Social Order by Francis Fukuyama (1999)
- Requisite Organization, (amended 2nd ed.) by Elliott Jaques (1998)
- Overcoming Organizational Defenses, by Chris Argyris