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Participative Democratic Organization or Behaviour-Enhancing Second Design Principle (DP2)

DP2 structures are based on Open-Systems Design Principles (Contextualism) and the model of directive correlation between system and environment.

The resemblance of DP2 to an “Ecosphere” may not be accidental. DP2 was purposefully designed to reconcile scientific knowledge (expertise) and ecological knowledge (common sense) based on ecological learning, open-systems and the model of directive correlation thus, catering to physical and psychological human needs and aspects (i.e., to allow for purposeful and ideal-seeking behaviour) (Emery, 1993). Some of these aspects are a pro-active-adaptive and participative leadership, shared responsibility and accountability, high cooperation and commitment, and effective communication (Emery, 1994).

In DP2 structures, interactive participation, cooperation and commitment are the only viable way to accomplish anything. A great example are the ‘mingas’ in the Andes mountains.

As Fred Emery (1995) puts it “Participative design is a redesign of the process of redesigning organizations. DP2 replaces conventional STS [Socio Technical Systems], while offering all the promise that STS sought to but was unable to deliver”.

In DP2 structures there is a balance between the technical system (technosphere) and the social system (participative-democratic ecosphere), i.e., people at work who are continuously learning. This continuous learning by the social systems is what gives DP2 structures the ability to adequately address relevant uncertainties, system discontinuities and negative externalities and proactively and swiftly adapt in a competitive, dynamic and turbulent environment (Emery, M. 1995, 1996).

The building block in a DP2 structure is a self-managing — but not autonomous — work team that creates a non-dominant hierarchy of functions (as opposed to the dominant hierarchy of parts in DP1).

In DP2 structures, the governing relation between two parts is that of “symmetrical dependence”, i.e., the sharing of parts is necessary to both of the parts (Emery, 1977).

Because of this symmetrical dependence DP2 structures are inherently error-attenuating (Ibid). This can be viewed as: E = (1 — P ) Where: E = error P = probability of error, and = number of redundant parts within the system. The governing principle of symmetric dependence does not cause the bifurcation of the two primary functions of communication, i.e., to inform and to instruct (Emery, 1977), thus assuring effective communication as a two-way street to inform and to instruct.

In a DP2 structure, processes and reward systems induce higher participation and sustainable employee engagement and commitment.

In a DP2 structure the responsibility for control and coordination is located WITH those doing the work and thus people behave accordingly:

  • Organizational structure predicated on cooperation & participation. People Ideal driven (plenty to learn)
  • Decision-making & control by those doing the work. Little specification as possible (“Smart-proof”).
  • Broad & flexibly defined jobs -uncomplicated work environment.
  • Workers make decisions about tasks -awareness of ‘big picture’ is essential.
  • Complementary Seriality (symmetric dependence)
  • Error attenuating (T=1-(F)n) (responsibility and blame cannot be shifted).
  • Organizational success (sustainability) a function of knowledgeable, and actively adaptive collaborative behavior.

What Does The Choice of Organizational Design Imply For Sustainable and Efficient Work?

The implications in terms of human behaviour derived from organizations built on the first design principle (DP1), i.e., Bureaucracies versus organizations built on the second design principle (DP2), i.e., Participative Democracies, are profoundly different.

When people work for the system (Bureaucracy) the organization is said to be ‘Variety-Decreasing’ and the range and level of behaviour of its elements is restricted (goal-seeking) and the pathological implications abound and have been witnessed by all of us.

When the system works for the people (Participative Democracy) the organization is said to be ‘Variety-Increasing’ and the range and level of behaviour of its elements is enhanced (ideal-seeking) and the synergies created are powerfully sustainable!

What happens when:

People are instrumental to an organization as in variety-decreasing systems or Bureaucracies?

As opposed to when:

The organization is instrumental to the people as in variety-increasing systems or Participative Democratic Organizations?

This is best exemplified in terms of human behavior, namely, employee engagement, commitment, empowerment, collaboration, transparency, integrity, etc.

This is the “magic” of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts!

Here’s to the health of your organization!

JC Wandemberg Ph.D.

President & Founder

Sustainable Systems International

About the author: Dr. Wandemberg is an international consultant, 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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