Assemblany: Towards Democratic Corporations

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Thoughts on Limited Tribes

As a thought experiment, consider a meta-org created to pursue long-term goals that a number of people belong to. Over time, as opportunities arise and/or customers express interest, it spins off short-term organisations (limited tribes). Each limited tribe has one specific goal that they are dedicated to, and dissolves when that goal is met.

If the meta-org is a company, then the limited tribes are project teams, which many people are familiar with. But if the limited tribes are companies, then the picture looks quite different ... I know there would be problems, like "what about liabilities and support" - most customers feel more secure knowing that the company will be around for a long time - there wouldn't necessarily be a cash buffer against the times between projects. But consider the advantages for a moment: think of the excitement in starting a new company every year; the chances to keep the best parts from previous projects/tribes; the chance to work with self-selected groups of people (assuming that people in the meta-org have the freedom to pick their own project, which I admit is unrealistic).

There can be a productive creative tension between short-term and long-term thinking in companies - though often things that should be changed regularly are preserved past their use-by date and vice-versa. If many policies and the mission statement change every year, while procedures spelling out which version of which software to use remain unchanged for 5 years, there's a mix of confusion and conservatism in the minds of employees (and probably management) of that company. There have been so many opportunities for positive change in the last 10 years (how many people used the internet 10 years ago?) - organisations should be open to them and ready to seize them. More on this topic later.

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