Evolution of Self-Managing Work Groups
Fred Emery and Eric Trist were the leading researchers in the landmark socio-technical field studies of self-managing teams. As organizational redesign methods which came out of them were field tested, unanticipated limitations appeared.
1939…Controlled studies found that greater vitality, creativity, cooperation, commitment to, and time spent on the work task were characteristic of democratic i.e. holocratic organizational structures (as opposed to bureaucratic and autocratic ones).
1951…The first natural field experiment to find this structure in operation was in the British coal industry in 1951, where an alternative form of work structure based around self- managing workgroups was producing 25 percent higher output and 40 percent lower costs than another mine, similar in every respect (conditions, equipment and personnel) except in the work structure.
1962 – 1969…The Norwegian Industrial Democracy Program proved the practical feasibility of self-directed group structures. Consultancy organizations sprang up to provide this expert-driven open-systems approach which sought to jointly optimize the social and technical systems design of organizations, called Socio Technical Systems (STS).
1974 – 1993…In 1974, to address the pitfalls of STS, Fred and Merrelyn Emery re-designed the process for re-designing organizations, calling it participative design. They set themselves to developing an approach that would circumvent the limitations of STS. Working with the Australian Air force, SAMCOR and Imperial Chemical Industries, they succeeded in seeing what was necessary. In rethinking the whole process of organizational redesign, they saw that leaving a bureaucratic structure in place made achieving optimization of both the social and technical systems difficult. Democratic processes were then developed to create democratic structures.
In 1993 they brought this process to the US. Although participative design i.e. Holocracy was developed some time ago, organizations have only recently been ready to make this shift spurred by competition and the increasing relevant uncertainties and turbulence of our times.
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