Revisioning Bureaucracy to High Performance Cluster Enterprises
by Bob J. Holder

Sitting around the Round Table, producing new fashions in etiquette was the ruination of King Arthur's court. While the knights tended to blame Guinevere, it was their own addiction to playing cosmetic games that destroyed Camelot. What do Camelot and the Round Table have to do with today's organization? Politicians, executives and government critics love to sit around the table and talk about bureaucrats, the Guinevere's of the American Camelot.

There are two problems. First, Guinevere isn't to blame. The fault may be with the knights who seem not to understand bureaucracy and who have provided little in the way of leadership for revisioning bureaucracy. Second, the knights are long on stories but short on practical and conceptual strategies for revitalizing Camelot. In fact, most don't have a clue of what bureaucracy is. This includes senior business executives who support and maintain their power and control through governance and organizational systems based on bureaucratic ideas. Industry associations and senior executives resist and lobby against regulations and monitoring from the "demon" government bureaucrats arising from the Enron affair. However, Enron's governance, organizational systems and culture were based on bureaucratic ideas and paternalism.

Bureaucracy has run its course. The knights are right. The irony is that the knights don't seem willing to revision bureaucracy. Instead, they devote much time and energy to nostalgia, ideology and principles that won't improve or revision bureaucracy.

This article presents a process and set of methodologies for transforming talk into action. It involves the fusing of competitive intelligence and organizational development professionals' competencies. These methodologies are described in detail. It suggests questions for assessing whether your organization is a bureaucracy and ideas for building a business case for revisioning it. Finally, it presents resources for learning about an alternative to bureaucracy, a cluster organization.

Bureaucracy Characterized

What is bureaucracy? First, bureaucracy exists when the coordination and responsibility for control of work reside above those performing the work. Second, the design of the work system is the responsibility of experts and managers. Third, bureaucracy breaks down work process into fragments. These fragments are called departments. It also involves breaking downs work into repetitive simple tasks. Fourth, hierarchy is a characteristic of bureaucracy. Hierarchy maintains power and directs control upwards. Fifth, bureaucracy creates more and more A, B and C people with limited knowledge. In other words, we can become as Humpty Dumpty without the intelligence to know we can't put ourselves together again. Finally, the predominant images of bureaucracy are as mechanical as the machine and factory.

Bureaucracy Identified

The following questions can help in identifying whether an organization is a bureaucracy.

Does our organization operate as a mass production factory?

Does it liberate employees and individuals or, does it shift and/or maintain power and control upward?

Does our organization have unnecessary paper work, controls, policies and regulations? Or, does it add value to citizen and people's lives?

Do intelligence and knowledge direct us? Or, are we grounded in hierarchy and ideology?

Revisioning Bureaucracy

The following are five methodologies, which are proposed to change an organization from a bureaucracy to a "cluster" organization composed of self-managing teams. Such enterprises are characterized in Mill's Rebirth of the Corporation, Block's Stewardship, Hall's Street Corner Strategy and Ghoshal and Bartlett's The Individualized Corporation.

Clusters can be characterized as a change from:

  • paternalism to partnership,
  • manager as implementer to entrepreneur,
  • organizations as silos to whole businesses with customers, profit and loss responsibility, the power to innovate, select members, access financial information and the ability to design customer offerings and the process to deliver them, and
  • staff as senior management's supporter and agents for maintaining their power and control to supporters of cluster's business needs and source for improving their business capabilities as they define them in collaboration with staff.

CI professionals, for example, would no longer solely focus on top management as suggested by the CI cycle. They would work with clusters to learn about their competitors and would be responsible for organizational intelligence development as suggested by Andreas Persidis.

These methodologies are:

(1) Scouting and Competitive Intelligence,
(2) Open Space Conference,
(3) Search Conference and
(4) Participatory Work Design conference.

They will produce the following outcomes:

(1) information and knowledge for dealing with these challenges,
(2) a future vision,
(3) vision implementation action plans,
(4) a coordinating structure for action plan implementation,
(5) a redesign of organizational work systems to support collaboration and
(6) a "real world" collaborative experience.

Finally, each has a proven track record. Those seeking evidence can find case studies in the bibliography. Some can be downloaded from the Net in pdf form.

Before proceeding, a word of caution is in order. While these methodologies are proven and effective, they are not always accepted by both senior managers and employees. This is also the case with cluster organizations. New workplaces have experienced efforts to transform them back into bureaucracies even when they by far outperform their peers. The reader ought to review the various assumptions upon which the methodologies are passed and compare them to their cultures and senior management philosophies. Some will accept. Some will ignore even with a strong business case. Others will embrace them with a strong business case and direct experience. Finally, others will engage in resistance games. The "case study need syndrome" is an example. Such individuals seek case studies beyond that which is of value for learning. This suggests a failure fear syndrome, fadisms and a need for certainty that is impossible to provide. Each organization is unique. Success in one organization does not promise success in another. The inability to surface and straight talk suggests uncommitted leadership and/or contentment and/or denial. This indicates that the organization is not ready for such a change. CI professionals ought to just walk away.

The process and methodologies ought to be open to modification. Experience and case studies suggest this is highly probable. Scouting and open space conferences may, for example, not be necessary. Search conference tasks may need to be augmented to fit organizational conditions. Time pressure is the only factor that needs to be avoided. When this factor is raised, it suggests the organization is not ready to undertake the change. It need not mean it will never be undertaken. It may just suggest the organization is too busy to engage in a change effort at this time. Experience suggests that when changes are made to reduce the time involved even with committed people, the process will fail to live up to its promises.

Competitive Intelligence (CI) and Scouting

The CI professional's purpose is to develop the business case for revisioning. They possess the competency and methodologies for collecting and presenting the intelligence necessary for supporting organizational change. (See the Society for Competitive Intelligence site, "" for an in depth CI characterization and examples of CI uses and methods.).

They can, for example, assess the uncertainty and turbulence of the firm's present and future environment. High uncertainty and turbulence suggest the immediate need for revisioning. Bureaucracies lack the flexibility, organizational processes and innovation capability to cope with such environments. CI professionals could use the "turbulence map" developed by Pine and presented in his work, Mass Customization. Pine has identified turbulence factors and developed a survey that can be administered to a firm's executives and managers. The results will provide the firm with an intelligence of its turbulence.

They can also document the gap between the firm and it's existing and potential competitors using benchmarking criteria. Examples include: (1) cycle time, (2) customer wowing, (3) intellectual capital utilization, (4) innovation rate and (5) the successful implementation of new workplace practices such as self-managing work teams, mass customization, knowledge management and the change from product and service offering to experience and transformational one's.

Scouting is the process of organizing, gathering and using external information and knowledge for continuous and discontinuous improvement. Scouting involves the following tasks as presented in Exhibit I. CI professionals tend to have the competencies and skills necessary for engaging in scouting. In fact, they might use scouting to develop their business case.

Exhibit I - Scouting Tasks

  • Define Scouting Purpose.
  • Create Scouting design team.
  • Develop Scouting organizing form.
  • Select Scouting information sources.
  • Engage in actual scouting.
  • Assess scouting findings.
  • Prepare scouting finding materials.
  • Disseminate materials and/or create and implement scouting action plans.

Scouting can be deployed for gathering and presenting information and knowledge necessary for revisioning. Scouting might, for example, involve sending formal and informal leaders to firms that have engaged in revisioning. This has been very effective in developing support for and the knowledge necessary for such changes. In other words, Scouting supports personnel in experiencing collaborative methods. It also supports the need for changing the existing system and may provide insights and models for supporting revisioning Finally, it reduces implementation anxiety by providing tangible successful examples.

Open Space Conference

An Open Space conference is large group self-organizing conference. Such conferences can involve up to 500 participants. (See the Open Space Institute site, "" for an in depth characterization and examples of Open Space uses and cases.).This conference represents a rapid and quality fact finding methodology focused on a single theme. The conference theme would be, "Revisioning our Organization." Its purposes would be to develop support for revisioning through involvement and the identification of revisioning issues, problems and solutions for addressing them.

Exhibit II illustrates the conference's stages. CI professionals ought to participate in preconference work and the conference itself. They can present their finding first hand to fellow participants.

Exhibit II - Open Space Conference Stages

  • Preconference Work with Open Space Design and Conference Implementation Team
  • Conference Performance
  • Editing of Conference Proceeding
  • Dissemination of Conference Proceeding

The conference is open to whoever wishes to participate. Participants would be provided with scouting and CI results. In fact, scouting participants would likely participate. The conference agenda is presented below.

Exhibit III - Open Space Conference Agenda

  • Introduction by the sponsor
  • Conference Management Team Introduction
  • Statement of Conference Team
  • Statement of Expected Outcomes
  • Conference Constraints and Commitment Statement
  • Introduction to How the Conference Works
  • Housekeeping Statement
  • Introduction to Open Space Principles
  • The Actual Conference Begins
  • Presentation of Conference Outcomes
  • Conference Closure

An Open Space conference is guided by four principles: (1) whomever attends are the right people, (2) whatever happens is the only thing that could happen, (3) whenever it starts is the right time, and (4) when it's over, it's over. Participants would self-organize into groups to explore implementation issues and problems and develop alternatives. Each would produce a verbal full conference presentation and a written text. In fact, lap top computers and video recorders might be provided for text writing and to document discussions. This text and video would be the conference product and outcome.

The text, conference proceeding and video would be presented to executives, managers, organizational stakeholders and people unable to attend for additional comment and review. A team composed of stakeholders could be formed for comment review and to finalize a document. Similar processes would also be used for documenting and sharing scouting findings.

Search Conference

Open Space conference proceedings would feed into a Search Conference(s). Search conference participants would also engage, if necessary, in additional fact finding. This might take the form of structured interviews and/or participant environmental scans as presented in the Search methodology.

Organizational redesign requires creating "common ground" and a shared vision amongst competing groups' mindsets, viewpoints and economic interests. A Search conference would be used to support "common ground" visioning. Search conferences have been designed for this purpose and possess a track record for creating common ground.

A search conference will be used to create a new vision or desired future state, strategies, action plans and teams to implement them for cluster enterprise. It will also be used to identify and clarify the "specifics" of the organization and to create strategies, action plans and team to implement them. Processes, for example, will need to be developed and implemented to support learning and knowledge sharing across cluster and to support partnering amongst them when necessary for say the development of new offerings. Strategies will be needed educate organizational members to behave as business people to manage their clusters. Clusters will also be needed to be defined from existing silos. Action plans and teams to implement them will be necessary for developing these clusters.

Search conferences are based on Exhibit IV's assumptions.

Exhibit IV - Search Conference Assumptions

  • Ordinary people have real world knowledge and can organize it.
  • Ordinary people can self-organize and perform tasks without experts.
  • People can create their own futures.
  • People want opportunities to use their bodies, minds and hearts.
  • People prefer cooperation to competition.
  • Developing shared perceptions is critical to create a new context for shaping the future and action plan formulation.
  • Egalitarian participation supports more productive and effective conferences, visioning and action planning.
  • Diversity must be respected, appreciated and valued.
  • Developing shared reality perceptions is critical to understanding the environment.
  • Effective and successful change arises from involving all stakeholders in the design, development and implementation process.
  • Designing the conference and change process is as critical as conducting the session and implementing plans.

Search Conferences involve participants performing Exhibit V's tasks:

Exhibit V - Search Conference Tasks

  • Selecting which changes in the world are important for our future
  • Selecting which trends and forces directly affect our system
  • Defining a common history of our system
  • Analyzing our current system: what to keep, throw-out and create
  • Choosing a desirable future of our system
  • Create Strategies
  • Identify constraints and develop strategies for addressing them.
  • Action planning
  • Organizational diffusion and plan implementing

The Search's vision, strategies and action plans should support community social structure development: a social network, which provides for focused actions amongst diverse groups. These groups will support revisioning to the clusters. Finally, Search conferences can also be used by clusters to develop their visions and strategies.

Participatory Work Design Conference

Vision and action plan coordination and implementation should result from establishing of democratic self-managing teams. These teams will coordinate implementation activities identified at the Search Conference. A modified Participatory Work Design conference (PWD) could be used to establish the teams and their coordination processes and structures. And, it would be the first step in supporting system wide collaboration.

Search and Participatory Work Design conferences would also be deployed for work system redesign to support collaboration and the development of clusters. Research and experience indicate that revisioning tends to fail because "thinking," designing the new workplace, and "doing," implementing the design and performing the work are separated. Re-engineering is a classic example. Design teams composed of the best and the brightest were created. Some talked with and/or surveyed people doing the work. They re-engineered their organizations. The vast majority failed. The people responsible for implementation and doing the re-engineered work resisted. Social networks, critical for the performance of work, were ignored and/or destroyed. Tacit knowledge was ignored. People, with critical work intelligence and skills, were transferred, removed and/or left the organization. The outcome was that critical knowledge and skills associated with the firm's core competency were lost. The lesson is that thinking and doing ought not to be split. Search and PWD conferences allow this lesson to be applied. Revisioning will require, for example, changes to the CI function. Search and PWD conferences would be used by CI professionals to revision their functions rather than senior executives, the best and the brightest and/or consultants.

Exhibit VI presents the assumptions upon which a participatory design conference is based.

Exhibit VI - Participatory Design Conference Assumptions

  • Organizational members have important knowledge and can organized it to design and improve their work place.
  • Organizational members can self-organize and perform work redesign tasks without experts.
  • People can create their own work place and/or system.
  • People want opportunities to use their bodies, minds and hearts.
  • People prefer task diversity.
  • People prefer cooperation to competition.
  • Democratic participation supports more productive and effective work system design.
  • Effective and successful change arises from involving those performing the work in the design, development and implementation process.

The following exhibit illustrates the conditions resulting in productive and effective work and guiding a PWD conference.

Exhibit VII - Participatory Design Conference Guiding Principles

  • People want adequate elbowroom to influence their work and to make decisions.
  • People want to continually learn by setting challenging goals and receiving time results feedback.
  • People need task performance variety.
  • People want cooperation and support from their co-workers.
  • People want meaningful work which contributes to improving others' lives and contributes to improved social welfare.
  • People want work which allows them to advance, improve and develop their potential.

A PWD conference involves participants performing Exhibit VIII's tasks:

Exhibit VIII - Participatory Design Conference Tasks

  • Discussion of the differences between democratic self-managing organization and effective and productive working conditions and bureaucracy.
  • Assessment how work is presently done.
  • Assessment of where and how the current way of working falls short of conditions for effective and productive work.
  • Work place redesign based on democratic self-managing organization, effective and productive working conditions.
  • Developing work place action implementation plans.

PWD conferencing, with scouting gained knowledge and ideas, will afford organizational members the opportunity to revision the existing system as not only to improve collaboration, service delivery and resource utilization but also staff working conditions.

Summary and Concluding Thoughts

In summary, this article presents a process and methodologies for revisioning bureaucracy. This process need not be limited to revisioning. It can also be used to improve the success of mergers and acquisitions. Research suggests between 60 to 70 percent fail and/or don't improve long term value. A major cause is low involvement of the people in the organizations participating in the redesigns and changes that result. This process can address this problem.


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Open Space Institute: .

Bob Holder is a development consultant. His St. Louis area based consulting firm works with profit and non-profit organizations and small enterprises. He was a contributor to the book, After Atlantis: Working, Managing and Leading in Turbulent Times. His, Requisite for Future Success ... Discontinuous Improvement in the Journal for Quality and Participation with Ned Hamson was the lead article in the launching of Emerald Management, the trade name for MCB Publishing in the United Kingdom. His articles have appeared in ODJ, ODP, Quality Digest, CI Magazine, Journal for Quality and Participation and Quality Journal. Bob has been devoting the last two years to teaching and doing paid and volunteer consulting in Russia. He consults, speaks and writes about innovation, strategic visioning and human systems design.

Contact Bob J. Holder at:
Gray Matter Production 620 Roosevelt Dr. Edwardsville, IL. 62025
Telephone: (618) 692-0258, Fax (618) 692-0819, e-mail: .

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