New teams play old game

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The Independent Online
RECENT dramatic shifts in the business environment have put pressure on large organisations to find ways of making better use of their employees. Where once they did not want their staff to think for themselves, now they are prepared to accept this if the pay-off is greater flexibility.

Rosabeth Moss Kanter, the management thinker, refers to companies adapting to this sort of change as "post-entrepreneurial", whereas others talk of "contractual structures", "hollow corporations", and "shamrock" and "cluster organisations".

However, Robert Goffee and Richard Scase, authors of the just-published book Corporate Realities, suggest that the structures that are starting to evolve are not really new. Companies built around networks, such as the casual clothing organisation Benetton, may be different from more bureaucratic businesses, but they really represent a harking back to the industrial revolution, they say.

Then, the iron and steel, engineering, and textile industries were based on subcontracting networks. The concept carried on into this century in such areas as coal-mining, shipbuilding and car manufacturing.

Nor is the concept confined to such areas. "What is new," say Goffee and Scase, "is the increasing application of this organisational form within growth sectors, such as telecommunications, computing, consumer electronics and the media industries, and its gradual readoption, as a result of 'vertical disaggregation', within industries such as transport, engineering and the manufacture of fashion goods."

Even then the results are not uniform or predictable. The aim is to "loosely integrate" individuals and small teams, often within a more market-like set of relationships, in an attempt to encourage entrepreneurship.

"But the linkages may be fragile and the durability of this organisational type is better proven in some forms than in others," say Goffee, professor of organisational behaviour at London Business School, and Scase, professor of organisational behaviour at the University of Kent at Canterbury.

For example, managers may need to rethink processes of strategy formulation and implementation as well as develop new models of corporate integration. This implies new leadership styles, stronger corporate cultures and the "more imaginative" application of information technology systems.

Moreover, as the trend for outsourcing gathers pace, there is a need to examine the legal, fiscal, and organisational implications of having "what are, in effect, 'boundaryless' organisations", the authors say.

Although sceptical of the death of the bureaucracy, Goffee and Scase are convinced that the onset of networks requires a whole new set of "management behaviours".

o 'Corporate Realities, the Dynamics of Large and Small Organisations', is published by Routledge at pounds 37.50 (hardback) and pounds 11.95 (paperback).