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Some capabilities required by a unit, such as the number of refueling vehicles needed to achieve specific levels of mobility, can be derived quantitatively. Others, such as the reconnaissance assets needed to carry out a mission, depend on assumptions and judgments based on experience, values, and ideology. Planning how best to organize to fight a war is an extraordinarily complex process. Hundreds of interactive considerations and contingencies must be taken into account.

Here we summarize the part of this process that must go on just to organize a unit U. Army, Step 1: Identify unit design issues. In this step, all of the external conditions that are likely to affect or alter the design of a unit are identified and described. External conditions include threats e.

Internal conditions include new or revised missions, changing funding, technology advances, lessons learned from training and combat, and new or revised doctrine. The product of this step is a requirement to change a unit design in order to bring it up to date and tailor it to internal and external conditions. Step 2: Develop unit design concepts. In this step, a set of design concepts is constructed given the issues, needs, and constraints that were spelled out in Step 1. The concepts identify the required capabilities for employing forces on the battlefield.

They define needs but not particular means for meeting the needs. Once they have been formulated, unit design concepts drive changes in training, doctrine, leader development, and materiel requirements. Given a requirement to design a unit, knowledge of its required capabilities, and the doctrine that will govern the performance of its mission, the unit designer draws on a knowledge base about what makes an organization effective.

This knowledge base contains a number of important design principles. Design principles act as a filter to evaluate unit design alternatives. Army doctrine often suggests which principles are most relevant to a particular unit being designed. The similarity of many of these principles to those derived from organizational theory, and particularly to contingency theory, is striking. Step 3: Analyze and test unit designs. In this step, design alternatives are examined and compared in effectiveness and efficiency. The methods used to assess effectiveness include training exercises, computer simulations, and war games.

The assessment of efficiency typically centers on cost and resource analysis. Step 4: Develop tables of organization and equipment. A table of organization and equipment lists the personnel and equipment required for. A "good" table reflects a balanced structure of the minimum essential personnel and equipment for a unit to accomplish its mission under conditions of sustained combat.

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Step 5: Implement and evaluate the table of organization. The implementation and evaluation of tables of organization requires the integration of each unit design with other units in the force, with other services, and with allies. Ultimately, the success of the unit design process is measured by the ability of units in the field to carry out required mission tasks.

Lessons learned and data collected from actual operations e. The modeling and simulation tools used in Step 3 are also applicable to this step. The major sources of guidance for organizational design are research and theory, experience, and doctrine.


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Each of these has its own characteristics strengths and weaknesses, which are briefly outlined below. A manager's experience can often be a poor basis for organizational design, for two reasons. One is that in some important respects the environment in which managers work is not conducive to learning. Learning is most efficient when feedback is fast and unambiguous.

The outcome data from many managerial decisions, particularly changes in organizational design, are generally months or years in coming. By that time, many events, some unknown to the manager, have transpired that confound the relationship between the design decision and the outcome, thus introducing ambiguity. Furthermore, outcome data are often selectively perceived or interpreted by the managers themselves or are distorted by upward-communicating subordinates, thus rendering the feedback ambiguous, biased, or both. The second reason is that the organizational circumstances that influenced the efficacy of a particular design in the past are not likely to be the same as those for which a new design or a redesign is contemplated.

In a fast-changing world, past experiences are generally not representative of current situations.

The Flexible Firm: Capability Management in Network Organizations by Julian Birkinshaw

If managers have a fairly complete and accurate mental map of which contingencies influenced the effectiveness of the designs previously encountered and how the contingencies and design features interacted, account could be taken of the differences in circumstances, but this is hardly ever the case. The experiences of management consultants may not suffer so greatly from this extrapolation problem. As we noted earlier, consultants are often. In addition, their wider variety of experiences gives them more opportunity to identify the relationships among these variables.

Although, to our knowledge, there are no systematic studies of the sources of ideas used by executives when they design or redesign organizations, it is generally agreed that, on the whole, theories from organizational science have had only modest impact on organizational design Bettis, ; Daft and Lewin, ; but see Guillen, , for at least three reasons.

One is that organizational theories are often not very accurate when applied to a specific case Miner, ; Daft and Lewin, This fact follows from the methodological problems inherent in the study of complex human systems, such as the multiplicity of performance measures and the multiplicity of causal forces. It also follows from the fact that scientists attempt to create theories that are very general and that apply to many situations. As a consequence, more broadly generalizable theoretical advances are more rewarded by the scientific community and are sought more vigorously by scientists.

However, all else being equal, a general theory is less accurate about a particular situation than is a theory derived only from studies of organizations in that situation—and managers are interested in their particular situations. Related to this issue is the matter of studying typical versus atypical organizations.

The potent argument for studying atypical organizations is that by definition they have unique properties that may render general theories invalid. Some in the organizational science community are calling for more studies of atypical organizations in which mistakes can have disastrous consequences, such as atomic energy plants, toxic chemical factories, airlines and air traffic control systems, and space satellite launching organizations Roberts, A second reason that organizational theory has had only modest impact on organizational designs is that the large body of empirical studies on which it draws includes many studies carried out under conditions that no longer exist.

For example, managers are involved in command, control, and communication—functions that have been transformed by computer-enhanced communications technology.

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Yet, as noted by Huber , organizational theories concerning these functions have generally not accounted for the massive changes in the availability, effectiveness, and usability of technologies for command, control, and communication. Similarly, other environmental.

A third reason is that some executives with broad firsthand experience, or with long histories of learning from other executives, seem to know the essence of a theory before organizational scientists articulate it. Although scientists often identify subtleties that executives may not have had the opportunity to grasp, such subtleties are often so situation-specific that they do not apply to the circumstances in which executives find themselves.

In spite of these concerns, there are important conditions under which prescriptive organizational theory can be of considerable use to organizational designers see Donaldson, , One of these is when trial-and-error learning is prohibitively expensive and applicable personal experience is unlikely to be available.

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For example, research shows that organizations tend to remain relatively unchanged, even as their environments shift, leading eventually to the need for radical and swift redesign Hannan and Freeman, Unfortunately, swift redesign leaves no time for experiential learning, so redesign decisions need to be right the first time. Without the products of systematic empirical studies, many executives would have little basis for making informed choices.


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  • The value of organizational theory as a basis for organizational design is understood best in relation to the alternatives. As we noted, in a fast-changing world, personal experience applicable to any current choice situation is unlikely to be available. Also, because the feedback from executive action is both slow and subject to cognitive and motivational biases, it is very difficult for accurate learning to occur. Thus, although the aggregate personal interpretations of experience by a team of executives are likely to be superior to any single executive's interpretation, they are unlikely to be superior to the systematically evolved theory that comes from the careful integration of the results of scores of scientific studies.

    Doctrine consists of design principles derived from the experiences, beliefs, values, and ideologies of an organization's key leaders.

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    Because doctrine follows from the careful review and integration, by many experts, of many experiences, idiosyncratic confounding variables and noise are reduced in their impact, and contingencies are often recognized and accounted for. Thus, with respect to experience, doctrine does not suffer from some of the problems involved in using the experience of individual managers. It is also true that beliefs, values, and ideologies are generally extremely slow to change and often very resistant to revision in light of new data.

    As a consequence, the use of doctrine can lead to periods of poor organizational performance when conditions are changing rapidly. Doctrine as a basis for organizational design has an advantage over the more general organizational theory, in that it is specific to a particular type of organization. It does not suffer from the low levels of accuracy that sometimes occur when highly generalized, cross-industry theories are used to predict the relationship between design and performance in specific situations.

    In this respect, it avoids the criticism that Starbuck would direct at prescriptive organization theory—that it does not account for the properties that make organizations distinctive. Experience, organization theory, and doctrine each serve as a basis for the design of organizations. Because they draw on past events, they tend to perpetuate previous designs albeit designs that led to satisfactory performance ; they tend not to lead to new organizational forms.

    New forms or designs are appearing, however, and we turn now to a discussion of them.

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    As organizational environments undergo accelerating change, it is no surprise to discover distinctively new forms of organizations emerging as managers attempt to create organizations better suited to these changes. In this section we examine several "new" organizational forms: the adhocracy or the team-based organization, the network or virtual organization, the horizontal organization, and the matrix organization the oldest of the new forms.

    The first three of these new forms have so far received little empirical examination. Indeed, a reason to mention them here is to make them more conspicuous as objects and opportunities for study by organizational scientists.