Boundaryless Organization LO22918

John Gunkler (
Wed, 20 Oct 1999 11:34:24 -0500

Replying to LO22902 --

I'm not an expert in boundaryless organizations, though I consulted at GE
briefly a few years ago, saw some of their concepts (like a "workout"
session) in action, and have worked with other organizations who are
attempting to be boundaryless.

I believe that Ron Ashkenas would say that a boundaryless organization has
no "barriers" (he defines "boundaries" to mean "barriers") in the
following four dimensions:

Vertical - barriers due to differences in levels and ranks of people (layers
within a firm)
Horizontal - barriers between functions and disciplines (or product lines or
External - barriers between the firm and the "outside world" (principally
suppliers and customers, but also other stakeholder groups)
Geographic - barriers due to location and culture (e.g., national pride,
market peculiarities, cultural differences, the logistics of working across
long distances)

However, as you say, no "barriers" doesn't necessarily mean no "membranes"
(distinctions.) Ashkenas even uses the following language "...making more
permeable a number of the traditional boundaries that prevent companies of
all types from achieving speed, flexibility, integration, and
innovation..." which "...allows organizations to move ideas, intellectual
capital, resources, and talent from one place or project to another
quickly, without having to resort to dramatic reorganizations, mergers,
breakups, or re-engineering."

He, as you suggest, is concerned with the free flow of work and ideas --
and especially is concerned with eliminating the perceptual barriers
caused (in people's heads) by the existence of boundaries. I believe he
would like to see all perceptual boundaries eliminated -- if not the real
ones, which still can serve some purposes.

To the point of boundaries serving a purpose, I have seen some nasty
things being written on this list about hierarchies -- and I hate
bureaucracy as much as the next person, though bureaucracy is not
identical to hierarchy. However, as Herbert Simon pointed out many years
ago, hierarchy is one of nature's most powerful tools for dealing with
complexity -- and we have begun to learn from that tutelage. Hierarchy is
not only not always evil, it is (increasingly) necessary as we learn to
deal with complexity beyond the intuitive capacity of humans to understand
and control.


"John Gunkler" <>

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