The zigzag path of collaborative community within the firm

Essay: Paul S. Adler and Charles Heckscher. Essay: Paul S. Adler and Charles Heckscher. Towards Collaborative Community / (Book: The Corporation as a Collaborative Community)

This is an absolutely remarkable essay, nothing else than an indispensable must-read, that charts the history of community within the capitalist form, from the earliest community oriented paternalism (the ‘Gemeinshaft’ model described by Tonnies), to the bureaucratic (‘Gesellshaft’) model described by Weber and Durkheim, culminating in the emergence of collaborative community, existing in tension and contradiction within the hierarchical and market environment of for-profit companies.

I am particularly happy because an important part of this essay confirms the timing hypothesis of social change, which I formulated in my own recent essay on “Russia and the next long wave

In this essay, continuing in the tradition of Kondratieff, Schumpeter and as updated by Carlota Perez, we posit long waves of economic development characterized by a productive upswing, followed by a laisser-faire wave of financialization which ends in Sudden Systemic Shock. (Kondratieff 6 ended with the meltdown of 2008).

This means that the next long wave will be necessarily constructed on a new set of energy inputs, financial and property forms, social contracts, etc …

An important aspect of this contract is how we interact as employees within the firm, and here the essay offers a complementary timeline. While the organisational intra-corporate effects show a characteristic delay, the end result is complementary in the expectation that the current phase of control based on business process re-engineering and outsourcing, will be followed by a renewed focus on democratic employee involvement, through the specific format of ‘collaborative community’.

Note that according to this timeline, we need to be patient until the 2020’s … exactly the expected point of resolution of the current meltdown!!

Here’s what Paul S. Adler and Charles Heckscher say about it:

:Researchers who have studied the evolution of the popularity of various management techniques in management journals have consistently identified periods that alternate between a focus on employee commitment and a focus on managerial control:

1. Commitment, 1870s–1890s: welfare work.

2. Control, 1890s–1910s: scientific management.

3. Commitment, 1920–1940s: human relations.

4. Control, 1940s–1960s: systems rationalization.

5. Commitment, 1970–1990: employee involvement.

6. Control, 1990– : business process re-engineering and outsourcing.

The surface pattern is one of alternation; but closer examination reveals an underlying progression. Starting from a situation of ‘competitive capitalism’ and ‘simple control,’96 the sequence of commitment approaches aims successively deeper; the sequence of control approaches aims successively broader; and the latter have become increasingly hospitable to the former. First, relative to the commitment approaches, there is a clear shift from the earlier reliance on paternalism, to relatively impersonal, bureaucratic norms of procedural justice, to an emphasis on empowerment and mutual commitment, targeting progressively deeper forms of subjective involvement of the individual worker. And this sequence engaged progressively deeper layers of work organization: welfare work did not seek to modify the core of work organization; human relations addressed mainly supervision; employee involvement brought concern for commitment into the heart of work organization.

Second, the sequence of control innovations—from scientific management to systems rationalism to re-engineering—aims at successively broader spans of the value chain. Scientific management focuses on tasks and the flow of materials in the workshop. Systems rationalism aimed at a more comprehensive optimization of production and distribution activities. Re-engineering and outsourcing aimed at the rationalization of flows across as well as within firms.

Third, the relation between the commitment and control approaches seems to have changed: the control approaches seem to have become increasingly hospitable to commitment. Within two or three years of publishing a text popularizing a rather brutally coercive method of business process re-engineering, both James Champy and Michael Hammer published new volumes stressing the importance of the human factor and the need for job redesigns that afford employees greater autonomy. The undeniably autocratic character of much early re-engineering rhetoric and its rapid ‘softening’ compares favorably with more unilateral and enduring forms of domination expressed in post-war systems rationalism. It compares even more favorably with the even more unilateral and rigid rhetoric in turn-of-the-century scientific management: scientific management only softened its relations with organized labor after nearly two decades of confrontation.

The zigzag path of development in management technique appears to trace a vector that corresponds well to Marx’s notion of ‘socialization’: conscious control, and in particular in the form of collaborative community, characterizes progressively broader spans of activity.”

2 Comments The zigzag path of collaborative community within the firm

  1. AvatarLife long learner of Sydney

    It seems to me the easiest way to introduce and test the idea of ‘collaborative community’ is to send all non-technical managers home – without pay.

  2. Pingback: P2P Foundation » Blog Archive » From Social Media To Social Business Design

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