Sunday, July 6, 2014

Daniel Little — What drives organizational performance?

We have a pretty good idea of the characteristics that support very high individual performance in a variety of fields, from jazz to track to physics to business. An earlier post discussed some of the different combinations of features that characterize leaders in several different professions (link). And it isn’t difficult to sketch out qualities of personality, character, and style that make for a great teacher, researcher, entrepreneur, a great soccer player, or an exceptional police investigator. So we might imagine that a high-performing organization is one that has succeeded in assembling a group of high-performing individuals. But this is plainly untrue — witness the New York Yankees during much of the 2000s, the dot-com company WebVan during the late 1990s, and the XYZ Orchestra today. (Here is a thoughtful Mellon Foundation study of quality factors in symphony orchestras; link.) In each case the organization consisted of high-performing stars in their various disciplines, but somehow the ensemble performed poorly. The lesson from these examples is an obvious one: the performance of an organization is more than the sum of the abilities of its component members.
In fact, it seems apparent that organizational performance, like physical health, is a function of a number of separate parameters:
Understanding Society
What drives organizational performance?
Daniel Little | Chancellor of the University of Michigan-Dearborn, Professor of Philosophy at UM-Dearborn and Professor of Sociology at UM-Ann Arbor

1 comment:

Roger Erickson said...

Well, this can't hurt, but it does show how overly-isolated most specialists are.

He says the usual things, but is at least 150 years behind the by now truly massive literature in other disciplines.

In all honesty, lots of other professions will laugh at how late to the game this author - & his discipline - is.

Military people have quite formally practiced these things for over 2000 years, since before Alexander the Great, Sun Tzu or Hannibal.

Greek descriptions of democracy expressed such insights, and all known tribal systems practiced them coincidentally.

And of course legions of people coaching sports, music, dance and other mass entertainment disciplines have also known these things implicitly even when they didn't describe them explicitly.

Biologists/chemists/physicists even pre-Darwin figured out that compounds, organisms (& cultures) were far more than the sum of their bandwidth-constrained & capability-reduced parts, and that much of physical/chemical/bio-organization is a function of intricate feedback/response networks requiring truly massive infrastructure to mediate.

All organized systems - from crystals to cultures - are the result of stupendous amounts of trial & error, and the massive infrastructure that keeps all the method-sets constrained and operating within static or adaptive tolerance limits.

Even human cultures are what we practice, since our practices slowly dictate what can and can't be added and retained.

Statistical process control? Started in the 1920s with Shewhart.

General systems theory? Started in the 1950s.

Autocatalysis writings? Those go back to the 1930s.

What happened to "liberal" education, as in liberally diverse studies and interactions?