UK: Organisational structure - "fin de siecle" architecture.

UK: Organisational structure - "fin de siecle" architecture. - "Designing Organisations: The foundation for excellence" by Philip Sadler (Mercury, 180 pages, £14.95).

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Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

"Designing Organisations: The foundation for excellence" by Philip Sadler (Mercury, 180 pages, £14.95).

Review by Francis Kinsman.

For the admirers of Philip Sadler, lately principal of Ashridge Management College, this book will come as a treat. Sadler is a marvellous presenter on the lecture platform, and it shows here. The book is lean and economical, full of insights and densely yet approachably written.

Sadler starts in characteristically broad style, ranging over the whole subject of organisation as a kind of social architecture. He quotes a mass of precedents, building up his case brick on brick like a lawyer. He calls on evidence from Sir John Harvey-Jones, Tom Peters and Adam Smith; also from Roger Harrison, who describes the process of creating the new essential organisational culture as "releasing love in the workplace".

Do not sneer. The organisational culture of the 1990s must involve all successful businesses in a transformation from the paternalistic, bureaucratic, conformist, punitive, traditionalist, authoritarian school to the creative, innovative, friendly, trusting, entrepreneurial and technology-aware one. It will not suit everybody, but it will happen.

Building an organisation involves much more than mere structures and methods of working, moreover. Here we are into the binding together of people with a sense of belonging and common purpose. Sadler shows that it is no coincidence that so many of the great business corporations - IBM, Marks and Spencer, 3M, Honda, Volvo - have paid such attention to the creation of human organisations aspiring to such ideals. That is, to the ideals of efficiency, satisfaction both internal and external, innovation and, finally, wise planning and the fulfilment of everyone involved.

The climax of the argument is that the successful organisation of the future will have a flatter structure, fewer direct workers and more knowledge workers. It will have an inbuilt flexibility, due to the separation of core activities from peripheral ones; fuzzy boundaries; complex, tangled, irrational structural inter-relationships; strategic alliances with customers, suppliers and co-organisations; networks in place of hierarchies, and autonomous work groups doing their own thing within previously prescribed parameters.

If you buy only one management book during 1991, buy this one.

(Francis Kinsman is a consultant and writer.)

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