Monday, 16 February 2015

Wot? No managers?

There is an overriding assumption in modern organisations that a management hierarchy is essential. This assumption is taken up in many Quaker organisations, both those ran by Quakers and Quaker organisations themselves, such as at Friends House and many large meeting houses that employ staff to run a lettings business.
Yet no one seems to be asking the question, how is that we do without hierarchy in our meetings for worship for business, yet seem to require it in our other business activities?

We Quakers should be disquieted by a commonly accepted theory of the origins of modern management. Before the industrial revolution, most work was carried out in homes or small forges and mills, with size limited by restricted and localised access to power and transport. At the same time the state was administered by courtiers working directly for the monarch.
The development of steam power and railways led to the rise of large factories employing hundreds and then thousands of workers. At the same time the state grew ever more sophisticated. Factory owners looking for efficiency and thus profits, and government officials burdened by ever more administration, looked around for methods of organising such enterprises, and only one presented itself: the army. Generals commanded armies of thousands with the organisation successfully evolving over centuries, and literally tested to destruction on the battlefield.

Factory and government hierarchies mimicked those of the armed forces, even down to sharing the same language. And the rise of competition led to military metaphors being used to describe processes and tactics. Yet Quakers, despite our testimony against war, happily followed along in their business activities.

At first hierarchical management was about execution – getting things done as efficiently as possible, but with the rise of ever more sophisticated technology, management turned to be about implementing expertise, which required specialist knowledge that could only be obtained from outside the community or organisation. And still Quakers followed along, despite our testimony to the truth within.

Today, many forward thinking entrepreneurs realise that hierarchies are inherently rigid and incapable of responding effectively to change, especially in the fast moving field of information technology. This problem is well known in the field of war, through the commonly known saying “Generals are always preparing to fight the last war that they won”, and in this period of marking the anniversary of the First World War, we should be painfully aware of the terrible consequences of this failure. Yet still Quakers persist in using hierarchical command and control methods to run their business activities despite such bad press, whilst, ironically, some forwarding thinking entrepreneurs have discovered from Quakers ways of organising without hierarchy.

In the middle of the last century Quakers Kees Boeke and Betty Cadbury developed 'sociocracy' in the Netherlands as a means of making effective decisions in an organisation based on “deep democracy”:
“...sociocracy is a collaborative governance method emphasizing self-organizing groups, distributed authority, and inclusive consent decision-making. Its values are equality, transparency, and effective action.”
Towards the end of the century the method was developed for use in business, in particular in the Netherlands and Brazil. In this century the method has been further developed as 'Holocracy' in the United States by IT entrepreneur Brian Robertson, in particular to enable business to be much more responsive to change:
“Management Without Managers: Holacracy places the seat of organizational power in an explicit process, one which organizes around an explicit purpose. This allows emergent behaviour of the whole system, without being controlled by either a single heroic leader or even the collective group.” 
In the 1640s, when many people experienced ”the world turn'd upside down”, George Fox saw that among “those esteemed the most experienced people...... there was none ... that could speak to my condition" he realised that not only did we not need priests telling us what to do, but that they were the source of the problem. There were no 'mangers' or 'experts' back then – the priests and preachers filled those roles:
“... the Lord opened unto me that being bred at Oxford or Cambridge was not enough to fit and qualify men to be ministers of Christ; and I wondered at it, because it was the common belief of people.”
And so it was that people looked at Quaker meetings and exclaimed:
“Wot! No Priests?”

1 comment:

Paul Newman said...

Holocracy sounds very exciting. I wonder if there would be the will to form a workers cooperative to run the meeting house in this way...