Saturday, November 28, 2015

The Quantum Organization

In road traffic, says my friend @antlerboy, the one with the most momentum has the most responsibility. Perhaps that's true in other fields too?

Meanwhile, in a hierarchical organization, the one with the highest position has the highest authority. This is known as positional power. Unfortunately, responsibility and authority are not the same thing.

According to Heisenberg's uncertainty principle, the more precisely the position is determined, the less precisely the momentum can be determined, and vice versa. This is one of the central principles of quantum mechanics.

An analogous problem in most organizations is that responsibility and authority are poorly aligned. In other words, the person who pulls the strings isn't always the one who gets the blame when something goes wrong. And similarly, the person who does the work isn't always the person who actually knows how to do it properly. Position versus momentum.

There is a useful technique for organizational analysis known as RAEW (responsibility, authority, expertise and work), which was described by Roger Crane in the 1980s and adopted in some versions of Information Systems Planning. Unlike better-known techniques for responsibility assignment such as RACI, which describe how responsibilities ought to be distributed in an ideal (linear, clockwork) organization, the RAEW technique allows us to analyse how (badly) responsibilities are distributed in a real (chaotic, quantum, snakepit) organization.

And maybe fix some of the problems?

Related Posts: Clockwork or Snakepit? (June 2010)

Wikipedia: Responsibility Assignment Matrix, Uncertainty Principle.

Open University: Handy’s four types of organisational cultures

Updated 8 April 2016

1 comment:

  1. RAEW sounds like a good tool, and sounds like it also links into the work of Elliot Jacques and the later Systems Leadership Theory (MacDonald et al), which are systemic approaches to creating functioning organisations.

    There seems to be a fad at the moment to fundamentally misunderstand and attack the whole concept of hierarchy, which I worry muddies good debate about the organisation of organisations.

    I think the point - as Requisite Organisation (also known earlier as Stratified Systems Methodology) as well as the various network forms being promoted through Reinventing Organisations, Holacracy, and Niels Pflaeging's thing which has some exciting names - is to improve the alignment and organisation of RAEW and the equivalent... and then we can discuss whether and how hierarchy or network structures are the solution (and whether they come to the same thing!)

    This discussion which was generated from a couple of discussions on my linkedin updates partially relates:

    PS Thanks for a second blog inspired by a tweet of mine, very flattering! There's possibly a good analogy to be developed between varying momentums and organisational dynamics (I'll have to think a lot more about the Heisenberg connection)...