In the past, when you wanted to talk about a company that worked well, it was common to compare it to a machine. Mechanistic thinking prevailed. Organizations were expected to operate routinely, efficiently, reliably and predictably.
This archetype was compelling in the so-called “era of continuity,” where the future was an extension of the past.
Peter Drucker’s reflection on the Age of Discontinuity, where “the unpredictable is the daily bread for men, for organizations and for humanity as a system,” indicates the need for another organizational model, one capable of meeting human needs.
But what kind of organization will that be?
It is believed that in the future successful organizations will be those that institutionalize their capacity for permanent adaptation and develop an environment conducive to continuous transformation. They will be flexible organizations, always developing new strategies, new capabilities, and adapting to the new realities of the environment and the market.
Flexible organizations will make flexibility their most important competitive advantage.
In this context, the two key elements transforming the process of formulating the traditional organizational strategy into a flexible organizational design are: archetypes (models) and congruence (coherence).
Archetypes represent organizational architectures that serve different strategic purposes. At the extremes, we find the “highly centralized” archetype and the “highly autonomous.” Congruence is the integration between organizational components and their coherence with the chosen organizational design.
The basis for this more flexible archetype can be found in studies developed by Gareth Morgan in the 1980s.
In the book Images of Organization published in 1986, Morgan presents a set of metaphors to explain the functioning of organizations.
For Morgan, the metaphor that best projects the archetype of the companies of the future is that of the brain.
The organization-as-brain metaphor underscores the possibility of propagating and realizing brain-like competencies across the organization, including free and flexible theories and functions in information processing.
In the organization-as-brain, the organization is perceived of as intelligent, capable of learning, and capable of processing information. The fundamental concept is one of an organizational intelligence that provides a self-organization for dealing with aspects of transformation.
In this type of organization there is a more homogeneous distribution of intelligence and knowledge. It is the structure model in which all hierarchical levels have the same level of knowledge, decision-making power, and ability to contribute to results, despite occupying different positions.
Organizations of the future should have an architecture that assures them of the neuroplasticity and resilience of the human brain.
Neuroplasticity allows the human brain to continue learning throughout life, to change as learning occurs, and to reorganize and develop new neural pathways, which allows it to adapt to very different situations. Resilience is for facing and overcoming challenging situations.
In the organization-as-brain, the different organizational units will have neuroplasticity and resilience so that they can: learn continuously, change with their learning, reorganize themselves, develop new paths, face and overcome challenges with different degrees of freedom, and discern and identify the most convenient mode of integration.
In addition to the characteristics, the companies of the future will also be more organic, horizontal, flexible, innovative, adaptable, globally integrated, ethical, lean, agile, and socially and environmentally responsible, and they will have a high capacity for learning.