Open Workspace: New forms of organizing – the role of context (Zürich, March 27)


New forms of organizing are engaged with to address some of management’s most pressing issues. They promise increased speed, a strengthened sense of purpose, more consequential stakeholder orientation, and adaptability in the face of environmental change. Organizing approaches deviating from the classical, authority-based org chart model have been proposed time and again over the past decades. Many of them, however, remained one-off cases which were quoted more often than adapted and implemented in other organizations (think of Oticon’s spaghetti organization). Over the recent years, models like the Sociocracy-based Holacracy or various forms of agile project management – to name just two – have been more widely adopted. They have given rise to variations, a differentiated debate, and growing ecosystems of practitioners, in turn reducing the risk for managers and entrepreneurs willing to experiment with similar models.

In this open workspace, we address the question of context for new forms of organizing with special regard to the question of self-management and self-organization. Several dimensions of context come into view, each with consequences for how agile organizing must be framed and designed. For example:

The nature of value creation: e.g., it will make a difference whether you design for routine vs. innovation tasks; line vs. project management; product vs. service contexts; whether you organize for high reliability; whether (professional) standard operating procedures must be adhered to vs. or whether crisis need to be managed.

The regulatory context and the role of external stakeholders: by way of an example, it is notable that Dutch ING bank spared certain functions like legal and finance from its much discussed agile set-up. 

The size and scope of the respective way of working: for example, it is probably less challenging to experiment with new forms of organizing in a start-up team vs. transforming a long-standing enterprise. Implementing new forms only within a sub-unit of an otherwise classically structured organization poses special challenges requiring context-specific adaptation and innovation.

The heritage culture and the degree of un-learning required: for example, the cultural value and the practical relevance attached to hierarchy will define the change effort required.

In this session, we invite you to join the debate on how to approach, design, and practice agile organizing beyond the team level and explore the relevance of context.