In private as well as public organizations, we have been seeing changing organizational forms: a growing importance of ecosystems for competitive advantage, and many different experiments with flat organizations (absent hierarchy), emphasizing rapid adoption of new ideas and knowledge utilization across employees and stakeholders.
How do we design organizations for the future? The way we organize is not fixed; it is shaped by available technologies, social norms, and regulatory systems of the times. This collection comprises a commentary and six papers dealing with hierarchical control and creative liberation jointly, as well as individually, representing how organization design today is dealing with some of these pending issues.
"Use hierarchy for “liberating servant leadership” instead of controlling employees" (Nobles) argues that the negative impact of hierarchical control on employee performance is rooted not in hierarchy, but rather in organizational expectations of hierarchy. The organizational roles traditionally called "middle managers," responsible for controlling employees, can become "liberating servant leaders," resulting in self-motivated, creative employees.
"Climbing up and down the hierarchy of accountability: implications for organization design" (Romme) provides a systemic perspective on organizational hierarchy defined as a sequence (or ladder) of accountability levels. This ladder can be used in a top-down manner (e.g., as a chain of command), but also in bottom-up ways (e.g., by employees taking charge of higher-level responsibilities).
The digital platform economy undermines traditional forms of collective action, particularly trade unions. "The Platform Review Alliance Board: designing an organizational model to bring together producers and consumers in the review and commissioning of platform software" (Larner and Walldius) examines the role that cooperative, guild, and trade union models in the context of the platform economy can play in enabling new forms of collective action.
"Designing social networks: Joint tasks and the formation and endurance of network ties" (Hasan and Koning) looks at the effect of joint tasks on the creation of network ties with data from a novel field experiment with 112 aspiring entrepreneurs. A key result is that while joint tasks may serve to structure the social consideration set of possible connections, individual preferences strongly shape the structure of networks. As a consequence, there will likely remain a considerable unpredictability in the presence of specific ties even when they are designed.
"Using an algorithmic approach for grouping roles and sub-units" (Worren, Christiansen, and Soldal) describes a tool which, based on an algorithm, enables designers to group elements (e.g. roles) into sub-units (e.g. teams or departments), thus taking into consideration a potentially large number of interdependencies between the elements, as well as data about work processes in the organization.
"Connectivity knowledge and the degree of structural formalization: a contribution to a contingency theory of organizational capability" (Victer) develops a contingency theory of organizational capability based on the identification of decision variables relevant to the design of firms. The paper shows that the degree of structural formalization adopted by an organization reflects how knowledge controls the flow of action. The study identifies a functionally distinctive type of knowledge used to regulate the temporal order of tasks called connectivity knowledge. Empirical results provide preliminary support to the core hypothesis correlating the volume of connectivity knowledge applied in therapeutic services to the degree of structural formality adopted by a hospital.
—Richard Burton, Dorthe Døjbak Håkonsson, Erik Reimer Larsen,and Børge Obel, Guest Editors
About the Guest Editors
Børge Obel (Lead) is Director of the Interdisciplinary Center for Organizational Architecture, Denmark. He is also a professor in the Department of Management, Business and Social Sciences at Aarhus University, Denmark, and at EIASM, Brussels. He holds a PhD and a Dr. Oecon. from Aarhus U. His research interests fall within strategy, management, and organizational design. He teaches graduate courses in organizational design.
Richard M. Burton is Professor Emeritus of Organization and Strategy at The Fuqua School of Business, Duke University, USA. He holds a DBA, MBA, and BS from the University of Illinois, USA, and an Honorary Doctorate from Aarhus. He has written numerous articles and books with colleagues worldwide. His research focuses on organizational design—how to fashion a complex organization for goal attainment.
Dorthe Døjbak Håkonsson is professor at Department of Management, Business and Social Sciences, Aarhus University; professor at Department of Business Development and Technology, Aarhus; and and affiliated with the Interacting Minds Center at Aarhus. She holds a PhD from University of Southern Denmark. Her research interests fall within behavioral organization design. She teaches graduate and executive courses in organizational design, and bachelor courses in organizational behavior.
Erik R. Larsen is Professor of Management at Aarhus University. He has a Master in Engineering from the Technical University of Denmark and a PhD in Economics from Copenhagen Business School. He previously held appointments at University of Lugano, Cass Business School, University of Bologna and London Business School. He has published widely in the areas of organizational theory, operations, and energy deregulation.
Articles in this Collection
New trends in organization design
By Richard Burton, Dorthe Døjbak Håkonsson, Erik Reimer Larsen, and Børge Obel
Journal of Organization Design 2020 9:10
Published on: 15 May 2020
Point of View
Use hierarchy for “liberating servant leadership” instead of controlling employees
By Bill Nobles
Journal of Organization Design 2019 8:21
Published on: 18 November 2019
Climbing up and down the hierarchy of accountability: implications for organization design
By A. Georges L. Romme
Journal of Organization Design 2019 8:20
Published on: 24 November 2019
Point of View
The Platform Review Alliance Board: designing an organizational model to bring together producers and consumers in the review and commissioning of platform software
By Justin Larner and Åke Walldius
Journal of Organization Design 2019 8:14
Published on: 29 July 2019
Designing social networks: joint tasks and the formation and endurance of network ties
By Sharique Hasan and Rembrand Koning
Journal of Organization Design 2020 9:4
Published on: 20 February 2020
Using an algorithmic approach for grouping roles and sub-units
By Nicolay Worren, Tore Christiansen, and Kim Verner Soldal
Journal of Organization Design 2020 9:8
Published on: 23 March 2020
Connectivity knowledge and the degree of structural formalization: a contribution to a contingency theory of organizational capability
By Rogerio S. Victer
Journal of Organization Design 2020 9:7
Published on: 17 March 2020