02 February 2008

Stimergy - Self Organization

Have you ever wanted to speak up but didn't because you knew that no one would listen? Not a good feeling is it? Well, sadly, this is the state of affairs in hierarchal organizations. Many organizations have tried to be less hierarchical by shifting around upper management, but the results are usually the same. Isn't it strange when organizations who try to be less hierarchal still focus on their higher ranks. How could they ever expect to improve the organization?

Self organization is what they should be looking at. Creating change is not about the role of upper management or middle management. It's about the employees; it's about trust; it's about nature. Why it is difficult for management to think about employees first? What would happen if the hierarchy disappeared? Would the organization survive? That is the true test of the health of an organization.

When you look at natural systems, there isn't a 'boss' who runs the show; nature is self organizing. Organisms have the authority and materials they need to survive. In organizations, which are also living organisms, employees are directed and classified and cannot act naturally. Why is this? Why do we have an incredible need to classify and organize? Why does authority not equate with roles and responsibilities? It's interesting to consider the implications. If employees cannot function naturally and the organization cannot function without someone at the helm, can the organization actually survive or, given the laws of nature, should it survive?

It's a radical concept to imagine organizations without leadership because it's so foreign to our society. We've always had leaders who tell us what to do, think, and say. I'm not talking about Mom and Dad raising kids, I'm talking about organizations, institutions, government. What would happen if employees were empowered, trusted and listened too? What if front line employees had a greater voice in the organization? How would they self organize? Would they do a better job organizing themselves?

Stimergy is a method of indirect communication in a self-organizing emergent system where individual parts communicate with one another by modifying their local environment. The term was introduced by French biologist Pierre-Paul Grassé in 1959 to refer to termite behavior. He defined it as: "Stimulation of workers by the performance they have achieved." It is derived from the Greek words stigma ‘sign’ and ergon ‘action,’ and captures the notion that an agent’s actions leave signs in the environment, signs that it and other agents sense and that determine their subsequent actions.” (from wikipedia)

Participatory organization is an organization which is built based on people participation rather than their contract obligations.

Most current organizations are contract-based. Contracts define a functional structure that holds such an organization together by imposing mutual obligations on people. For example, an employee of a typical organization is obliged to perform a certain function in exchange for some previously agreed compensation. Once established the contract relationship is quite rigid and inflexible. A breach of contract implies severe penalties in most cases. Contracts facilitate organizational planning and often shifts risks from one party to another. Contracts are necessary for existence of fixed and rigid organizational structures primarily because these structures cannot easily accommodate changes: a failure of one element can easily become a cause of the failure of the whole organization. On the other hand, the rigidity of contracts creates a major stress for the people involved, primarily, employees.

Participatory organization is an alternative to the contract model. In the absence of obligations, any participant is free to contribute or not to contribute, free from deadlines to meet. This requires flexibility and robustness from the organizational structure. It should easily accommodate new participants and their contributions, without failing if some participants leave or fail to participate. This way it gives much flexibility to all people involved, while the organization still performs its function reliably. Some participatory organizations emerge spontaneously and are better described by the word self-organization, others are initially designed and organized by entrepreneurs. Human-based genetic algorithm is one possible model to design such an organization. (from wikipedia)

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