Alternatives to EBFAS?

Boyd’s organizational climate stokes up creativity and initiative throughout the organization and harmonizes them to accomplish the purposes of the organization. Examples run throughout his work:

Without a common outlook superiors cannot give subordinates freedom-of-action and maintain coherency of ongoing action. Patterns 74

… exploit lower-level initiative yet realize higher-level intent, thereby diminish friction and reduce time, hence gain both quickness and security. Patterns 79, repeated on Organic Design 18

How do we generate harmony/initiative so that we can exploit variety/rapidity? Organic Design 9

A similar implicit orientation for commanders and subordinates alike will allow them to diminish their friction and reduce time, thereby permit them to exploit variety/rapidity while maintaining harmony/initiative Organic Design 23

The EBFAS climate is designed to do just this: With a basis of Einheit, intuitive skill, and mental agility, it employs the Schwerpunkt concept to focus the efforts of the entire team and the Auftragstaktik device to assign missions to individuals.

Sounds awfully militaristic. Are there alternatives?

Here’s one that I just ran across, holacracy, described in “Zappos just abolished bosses. Inside tech’s latest management craze,” posted last Friday by Gregory Ferenstein on Vox.com. One quick way to tell this isn’t EBFAS is the “abolished bosses” part: EBFAS has strong military roots, and one thing military organizations, even those executing maneuver warfare, are good at is bosses. Toyota, whose production system embodies many of the elements of EBFAS, doesn’t seem to be lacking in them, either.

The ultimate purpose, though, is quite similar to Boyd’s

By distributing more authority, more control, it may seem counter-intuitive, but you actually increase the productivity and innovation of the organization. I’m hoping that [holacracy] will require me to make fewer decisions, because that doesn’t scale, if every decision has to come from me,” Hsieh says. “The mayor of a city doesn’t tell its citizens what to do.” [Quoting Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh]

It will be interesting to see how Zappos does. They certainly aren’t the first organization to have tried such a thing. Back in the late 1980s, for example, the Danish hearing aid company Oticon created a stir with their “spaghetti organization“:

All formal job titles were scrapped. No employee had a desk or office of their own, or a role except one they chose for themselves from a list of projects on a bulletin board. Staff could take on as many different projects as they wanted, and were expected to pick up new skills along the way. Projects were not managed in the traditional way – leaders were mere coordinators, and the team took a project through from start to finish by itself.

Lars Kolind, the Oticon CEO who invented the system, has written a recent (2012) book, Unboss, which you can get on Amazon or from the Unboss website. If you search on terms like “Kolind,” “Oticon management system,” and “spaghetti organization,” you’ll find lots more.

One thing to note is that all these approaches involve self-organization, which is inevitable when you start ramping up creativity and initiative. The difference might be one of emphasis. In an EBFAS organization, the self-organization just happens as a fallout of Einheit. It’s expected and nobody makes a big deal over it. Teams that form for one mission dissolve when it’s over and new ones form for others. The movie industry out in Hollywood is often cited as an example.

So which approach is better? Obviously I have a significant investment in EBFAS, but the others have had successes, too. My advice would be to watch them all and then do some many-sided, implicit cross-referencing. In the end, build your own snowmobile customized for your organization and for your objectives:

The theme that weaves its way through this Discourse on Winning and Losing is not so much contained within each of the seven sections, per se, that make up the Discourse; rather, it is the kind of thinking that both lies behind and makes up its very essence. For the interested, a careful examination will reveal that the increasingly abstract discussion surfaces a process of reaching across many perspectives, pulling each and every one apart (analyses), all the while intuitively looking for those parts of the disassembled perspectives which naturally interconnect with one another to form a higher order, more general elaboration (synthesis) of what is taking place. As a result, the process not only creates the Discourse but it also represents the key to evolve the tactics, strategies, goals, unifying themes, etc., that permit us to actively shape and adapt to the unfolding world we are a part of, live in, and feed upon. Conceptual Spiral, 4, quoting the Abstract to the Discourse. Emphasis added.

Disclaimer: Like many of you readers out there, I order a fair amount from Zappos and from their parent, Amazon. Fortunately, I haven’t needed any of Oticon’s products, but I fear the time is coming.

One thought on “Alternatives to EBFAS?

  1. After watching the flick Gravity last night, self organization doesn’t seem to happen very well in a vacuum, and that is about all bosses are good for, filling a vacuum. So I suggest there is something else that takes the place of that vital vacuum-filling role of the boss. Maybe a person can’t actually call it “self” organization. Perhaps with the boss missing there is a more awareness of the force that is in the feedforward and feedback inside the loop and that force (like the force of command) produces a self-controlled environment?

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