Charles Heckscher

6 11 2009

The following passage is taken from Charles Heckscher’s work The Post-Bureaucratic Organization:

The Post-Bureaucratic Model

The Ideal Type

This definition of the weaknesses of bureaucracy brings the desired change into focus. The master concept is an organization in which everyone takes responsibility for the success of the whole. If that happens, then the basic notion of regulating relations among people by separating them into specific, predefined functions must be abandoned. The problem is to create a system in which people can enter into relations that are determined by problems rather than predetermined by the structure. Thus, organization control must center not on the management of tasks but the management of relationships; in effect, “politics” must be brought into the open.

This suggests a positive name to replace post-bureaucratic: Because of the crucial role of back-and-forth dialogue rather than one-way communication or command, I will call it the interactive. The set of mechanisms that drew our attention in the introduction all have to do with achieving effective organized action without the “prop” of a positional framework to predetermine the key relations: they are essentially structures that develop informed consensus rather than relying on hierarchy and authority. Examples of such mechanisms in industry include all kinds of consensus-based committees: task forces, product development teams, and problem-solving groups. These involve all those concerned with a given issue in discussion, gathering of information, and development of agreement.”

This is an interesting theoretical basis for the post-bureaucratic debate, grounded within ongoing debates about the role and organization of the public sector. The stress on ‘interactive’, and on all players taking responsibility for the whole, may not sit easily with individual liberty, if we conceive of it in the terms we use today. It seems that all players may be ‘required to be responsible’, rather than voluntarily buying into the collective responsibility. Why would the free-rider buy in? The post-bureaucratic age requires a nuanced but significant redesign of our core political concepts.

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