Five Waves of Organizational Structures LO26512

From: Jan Lelie (
Date: 04/13/01

Replying to LO26508 --

Dear Richard, Hello Teresa,

I'll give you my opninion for what it is worth.

When talking about the "unfolding" or development of organisation is draw
two axes. The vertical axes states "Increasing complexity" the horizontal
"Decreasing time intervals". I assume that most developments are towards
more complexity (networked is more complex than hierarchy, which is just a
simple network) and shorter timeframes (like the rate of changes that
seems to increase every year). Every wave i add - one above the other - as
an elongated S-shape (because of the conventions on making graphs). A
transition is shown a a little gap between the shapes. Now i also want to
point out that the next wave doesnot replace the previous one. So within a
matrix organisation one will find several hierarchical organisations. A
networked organisation will have a few matrices (sometimes called
projects) and contains local hierarchies. In a way, the basic building
block we're familiar with is a family and it is an hierarchical networked
matrix organisation with working groups for the dishes - depending on your
point of view.

Based on the contingency approach - who remembers Lawrence and Lorsch -
any succesful organisation should be "in tune" with its environment. So a
hierarchical organisation will not work in a creative rapidly changing
e-(business)-environment, but does work perfectly in a standard business
as usual environment, like in a factory or a postal organisation. Please
note that system and environment is a nested concept: in an e-environment,
there are parts that operate in a command-structure, there are projects
and matrices locally. Problems may arise when a succesful way of
organizing in one environment is forced to be used in another environment.
On the other hand, this might cause innovation.

Gradually i suppose we'll settle in a situation were we have a mix of four
different types of organisations: "classical" hierarchies, matrixes and
project-organisations, large networks and small "local breweries". All of
these are - in my view - Learning Organisations, because i see learning as
a (or perhaps the) generative process that drives the increase of
complexity and the reduction of cycle times.

As an illustration: in the old days it would have taken weeks for your
question to get an answered, then days and now perhaps a few hours.
However, in the old days it would have been a simple answer - Trust me, my
child -, and later a nice model, a set of rules and a nice sounding
acronym and now the answer is just a part in an avalance of messages. So
it goes.

In haste ;-),

Jan Lelie


[Host's Note: Jan offered an image and I've invited him to send it. I'll
reply to this message when I get it. ..Rick]

> Teresa Budler asked:
> >I am a first year M Comm student at the RAU in South Africa. We are
> >currently discussion the movement of an organisation from a second wave
> >organisation (hierarchical) through the third wave (network organisation) to
> >a fourth wave organisation (matrix organisation), and then on to a Learning
> >organisation.

With kind regards - met vriendelijke groeten,

Jan Lelie

Drs J.C. Lelie CPIM (Jan) LOGISENS - Sparring Partner in Logistical Development mind@work est. 1998 - Group Resolution Process Support Tel.: (+ 31) (0)70 3243475 or car: (+ 31)(0)65 4685114 and/or taoSystems: + 31 (0)30 6377973 -

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