On May 4, 1997 I wrote an article in this newspaper titled Ackoff`s Understanding of Interactive Design. Many friends expressed to me that they enjoyed such a piece. A couple of weeks ago, the genius and wise man of Russell L. Ackoff visited Puerto Rico. He was invited by The Center of Specialized Studies in Public Management. It was an intellectual feast and he delighted the audience with profound thinking. For more than forty years he has researched and lectured on systems, strategies, organizational design and transformational leadership within the boundaries of learning theory. On this occasion Ackoff emphasized the topic of The Democratic Corporation. This is his thinking:
A democracy is a set of relationships in an organization that has two aspects. First, anyone in the organization can participate in any decision that affects them, either directly or indirectly through representatives they select. Second, in a democracy there is no ultimate authority. Those who have authority over others taken separately are subject to the collective authority of those over whom they exercise individual authority. Authority is circular in the democratic organization. The challenge is for providing each manager with a board that consists of the manager (whose board it is), his or her immediate superior and immediate subordinates, and anybody inside or outside the organization they desire. These other members participate under conditions specified by the core. The only constraint is that no board should contain a number of representatives of any other stakeholder group that exceeds the number of subordinates on the board. Each board contains all the managers from the level immediately below it, and has people within it who participate in boards two levels up and two levels down. This makes integration and coordination of vertical and horizontal interaction possible. The structuring of these boards become key instruments for democratizing the organization and managing the interactions avoiding the micromanagement of the parts.
The boards plan and make policies for their respective units. No unit can either plan or make policy that violates higher level plan or policy. This preserves some reasonable hierarchy, but any unit has the power of action that doesn`t affect any other unit. It does not need permission to do it, providing that the tasks are under it jurisdiction. If it affects some other unit and the other unit agrees, it can proceed without going to higher authority. If an agreement is not reached, then the resolution of difference goes to the lowest higher level of management at which disagreeing parties converge. This makes irrelevant the issue of centralization and decentralization.
Boards aim at quality of work issues of those who are on the board. Without an acceptable quality of work there is not an acceptable quality of output and productivity. Each year subordinates of the board meet separately. The purpose is to identify things they want their immediate supervisor to do that will enable them to assure the quality of work. They present their recommendations in a face to face meeting with their supervisor. He or she, in turn, has three options: (1) say yes; (2) say no, and give sound able reasons; (3) ask for additional time and them say yes or no. In the second part of this exercise managers tell employees what they can concretely do to help them achieve a quality work.
The democratic organization is an architectural design of transformational leaders.
Copyright 1999, QBS Inc.