The Coming Shape of Organization Paperback – 23 Mar 1998
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From the Back Cover
In the search for alternative systems, Belbin outlines ways in which continuous deployment and career development can result in more effective use of people's talents. He describes the world of the higher social insects where evolution has generated a common set of principles governing organizations at their most advanced. He then suggests that these integrated strengths could be combined effectively with the strategic abilities of humans. A model, in the form of a helix, is foreseen in which individuals and teams move forward on the basis of excellence rather than function. Here information technology can assist in the evolution of human organizations to enable them to become both more complex and more viable in the future. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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Dr R Meredith Belbin, regarded as the father of "team-role" theory and one of the worlds foremost experts on teams predicts that we will evolve into bioteam forms.
Specifically he suggests our organisations will evolve into those forms "which combine the devolved but integrated strengths of the higher insects with the directive and strategic abilities of humans".
In his book "The Coming Shape of Organisation"  he picks out five observations human teams need to learn from "a diminutive masterclass" of social insects such as bees, ants and termites:
1. Division of Labour
They have no overall single leader but rather a co-operating leadership caste.
2. Superior use of Intelligence
Social insects are superior to humans in their ability to rapidly integrate new information from a wide range of senses and share it widely to ensure urgent action happens immediately rather than passing it up and down hierarchical chains of command.
3. Flexibility of Member Castes
Social insect colonies consist of a number of distinct castes of insects playing specialised roles such as foragers, attackers and nest maintainers. However these castes are are flexible and grow and shrink as required and can even change their roles in a crisis.
4. Devolved decision making
The system is geared up to concurrent (as opposed to sequential) decision making - there is no chain of command to slow decisions down.
5. Redundancy and Contingency
Colonies are not dependent on a single individual or system. They are based on scale and interlocking systems - any one of which might fail without catastrophic consequences for the colony.
Two Immediate priorities for Teams
He goes on to identify two guidelines which he suggests seem worth transferring immediately to human affairs:
a. transferring major decision making away from a single boss (Mr Big) to a co-operating leadership group
b. replacing monolothic organisational processes with concurrent interlinked systems
A call to humility!
In a statement which seems to lay down a challenge to humility in our thinking about teams Belbin concludes that "evolution will almost inevitably take us in the direction of species that have arrived at superior forms of organisation before us".
I wonder who he means?
ken thompson blogs on
on all aspects of teams and collaboration
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