From tayloristic immaturity to agile self-organization

In our predominantly tayloristic working world, there is always a strict separation between thinking and acting. The management defines goals, organization and processes and the simple employees are working within these structures created for them. Reorganization and process changes are the most important management tasks according to this paradigm. In contrast to other organizational changes, an agile transformation cannot succeed in this way. It is precisely this tayloristic separation between thinking and acting that is being dissolved in an agile organization in favor of the new paradigm of self-organization and shared responsibility for product and process.

Taylorism had and still has its strengths in efficient mass production. Responding quickly to new challenges or opportunities was less important in inert and unsaturated markets. In today’s fast, global and saturated markets, this agility at corporate level is or will be vital to survival. Taylorism is certainly efficient, but it is precisely for this reason that it is also rigid and slow in adapting to new circumstances.

The most important, and indeed the truly unique, contribution of management in the 20th century was the fifty-fold increase in the productivity of the manual worker in manufacturing. The most important contribution management needs to make in the 21st century is similarly to increase the productivity of knowledge work and the knowledge worker.
Peter F. Drucker

The transition to an agile organization is always a paradigm shift and not just a modification of the existing tayloristic organization. It is precisely this paradigm shift that makes the agile transformation so difficult, because it goes hand in hand with letting go and killing the old and proven. While Taylorism relies on centralization, specialization and standardization, agility requires consistent decentralization, multidisciplinarity and emergence. While Taylorism is based on management and control, agility primarily requires autonomy and orientation.

No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.
Albert Einstein

Therefore, an agile transformation cannot be conceived and implemented in a tayloristic way. It can and is usually envisioned in the old structures, but its implementation must be a real transformation in the sense of transforming a caterpillar into a butterfly. Moving only boxes in the organization chart and defining roles and processes is not enough and is at most a first small step.

It does not matter whether the worker wants responsibility or not, The enterprise must demand it of him.
Peter Drucker

The core of the agile transformation is about leading people out of their tayloristic immaturity to self-organization and a shared responsibility for product and process. However, this path cannot be planned, ordered and implemented by change management, but must be explored together in an agile way.

An agile transformation only works in an agile way.

Hi, I'm Marcus. I strongly believe that elephants can dance. Therefore, I accompany organizations on their way towards a more agile way of working. Since 2010 I regularly write about leadership, digitization, new work, agility, and much more in this blog. More about me.

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