From tayloristic immaturity to agile self-organization

In our pre­dom­i­nant­ly tay­loris­tic work­ing world, there is always a strict sep­a­ra­tion between think­ing and act­ing. The man­age­ment defines goals, orga­ni­za­tion and process­es and the sim­ple employ­ees are work­ing with­in these struc­tures cre­at­ed for them. Reor­ga­ni­za­tion and process changes are the most impor­tant man­age­ment tasks accord­ing to this par­a­digm. In con­trast to oth­er orga­ni­za­tion­al changes, an agile trans­for­ma­tion can­not suc­ceed in this way. It is pre­cise­ly this tay­loris­tic sep­a­ra­tion between think­ing and act­ing that is being dis­solved in an agile orga­ni­za­tion in favor of the new par­a­digm of self-orga­ni­za­tion and shared respon­si­bil­i­ty for prod­uct and process.

Tay­lorism had and still has its strengths in effi­cient mass pro­duc­tion. Respond­ing quick­ly to new chal­lenges or oppor­tu­ni­ties was less impor­tant in inert and unsat­u­rat­ed mar­kets. In today’s fast, glob­al and sat­u­rat­ed mar­kets, this agili­ty at cor­po­rate lev­el is or will be vital to sur­vival. Tay­lorism is cer­tain­ly effi­cient, but it is pre­cise­ly for this rea­son that it is also rigid and slow in adapt­ing to new circumstances.

The most impor­tant, and indeed the tru­ly unique, con­tri­bu­tion of man­age­ment in the 20th cen­tu­ry was the fifty-fold increase in the pro­duc­tiv­i­ty of the man­u­al work­er in man­u­fac­tur­ing. The most impor­tant con­tri­bu­tion man­age­ment needs to make in the 21st cen­tu­ry is sim­i­lar­ly to increase the pro­duc­tiv­i­ty of knowl­edge work and the knowl­edge worker.
Peter F. Drucker

The tran­si­tion to an agile orga­ni­za­tion is always a par­a­digm shift and not just a mod­i­fi­ca­tion of the exist­ing tay­loris­tic orga­ni­za­tion. It is pre­cise­ly this par­a­digm shift that makes the agile trans­for­ma­tion so dif­fi­cult, because it goes hand in hand with let­ting go and killing the old and proven. While Tay­lorism relies on cen­tral­iza­tion, spe­cial­iza­tion and stan­dard­iza­tion, agili­ty requires con­sis­tent decen­tral­iza­tion, mul­ti­dis­ci­pli­nar­i­ty and emer­gence. While Tay­lorism is based on man­age­ment and con­trol, agili­ty pri­mar­i­ly requires auton­o­my and orientation.

No prob­lem can be solved from the same lev­el of con­scious­ness that cre­at­ed it.
Albert Ein­stein

There­fore, an agile trans­for­ma­tion can­not be con­ceived and imple­ment­ed in a tay­loris­tic way. It can and is usu­al­ly envi­sioned in the old struc­tures, but its imple­men­ta­tion must be a real trans­for­ma­tion in the sense of trans­form­ing a cater­pil­lar into a but­ter­fly. Mov­ing only box­es in the orga­ni­za­tion chart and defin­ing roles and process­es is not enough and is at most a first small step.

It does not mat­ter whether the work­er wants respon­si­bil­i­ty or not, The enter­prise must demand it of him.
Peter Druck­er

The core of the agile trans­for­ma­tion is about lead­ing peo­ple out of their tay­loris­tic imma­tu­ri­ty to self-orga­ni­za­tion and a shared respon­si­bil­i­ty for prod­uct and process. How­ev­er, this path can­not be planned, ordered and imple­ment­ed by change man­age­ment, but must be explored togeth­er in an agile way.

An agile trans­for­ma­tion only works in an agile way.

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By Marcus Raitner

Hi, I'm Marcus. I'm convinced that elephants can dance. Therefore, I accompany organizations on their way towards a more agile way of working. Since 2010 I regularly write about leadership, digitization, new work, agility, and much more in this blog. More about me.

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