Organizational Design Principles

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Lippitt and White’s (1943) seminal work on group climates demonstrated that all human organizations embody one of only two genotypic and fundamentally different organizational structures: (1) Bureaucratic; and, (2) Participative Democratic.

Emery (1993) refers to bureaucratic and participative democratic structures as the first and second design principles, respectively (Ibid).

The bureaucratic, or First Design Principle (DP1), has a dominant hierarchy inhabited by specialized individuals with highly defined tasks. In this type of structure the redundancy, essential to the flexibility, adaptability, and viability of all systems is incorporated through the addition of redundant “parts” (i.e., individuals with the same skills) (Ibid). This accounts for the technical name “redundancy of parts” (Emery, 1993). It has also been called “the Megamachine” (Mumford, 1967).

The participative democratic, or Second Design Principle (DP2), has a non-dominant hierarchy and a radically different organizational structure inhabited by individuals who are highly specialized, but multi-skilled. In this type of structure, the redundancy, essential to the flexibility, adaptability, and viability of all systems, is incorporated through the process of multiskilling (i.e., individuals with different [but redundant] functions). This accounts for the technical name “redundancy of functions” (Emery, 1993).

Organizational researchers have found that bureaucratic (DP1) and participative democratic (DP2) structures have profound and predictable effects on the people who live and work within them regardless of the personalities involved (Alderfer, 1987; Argyris, 1958; Emery, 1993; Lippitt and White, 1943; Lowin, 1958).

The role of organizational structure in dealing with the increasing challenges in today’s world is crucial because an appropriate organizational structure provides not only a culture of sustainable engagement, accountability, leadership, innovation, etc., but also the foundation for the creation, establishment, and institutionalization of the necessary conditions and mechanisms for the attainment of project objectives and the maintenance of their outcomes with the highest possible efficiency, while eliminating all the bureaucratic pathologies associated with dominant hierarchies, e.g., lack of engagement, accountability, leadership, motivation, etc..

At the macro level, the non-dominant hierarchy gives rise to a culture of transparency, trust, and integrity.

At the micro level, this non-dominant-hierarchy organizational structure significantly enhances performance and efficiencies at every level, not only eliminating all the pathologies associated with bureaucratic organizational structures but transforming them into healthy ones. The best example to date is Blockchain!

Here’s to the health of your organizational design principles!

JC Wandemberg Ph.D.

President & Founder

Sustainable Systems International

About the author: Dr. Wandemberg is an international consultant, stocks trader, professor, and analyst of economic, environmental, social, managerial, marketing, and political issues. For the past 30 years Dr. Wandemberg has collaborated with corporations, communities, and organizations to integrate sustainability through self-transformation processes and Open Systems Design Principles, thus, catalyzing a Culture of Trust, Transparency, and Integrity.

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