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The Fractal Organization: Creating sustainable organizations with the Viable System Model Kindle Edition
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After defining the concepts used in the Viable Systems Model, he moves on, in the body of the book, to showing how they apply to real organisational issues. As well as showing what causes organisational problems, he characterizes pathological archetypes that will be only too familiar to anyone working in an organisation of any size. In passing, almost every approach to business you have ever heard or read of is also mentioned and put into context! Although this may sound messy, it is a consequence of the Systems approach and is done in such an elegant way that it actually brings great clarity.
The author's experience as a consultant is well used to provide many real world examples and this, and the easy flowing style, make this book a delight to read. The points made are not only relevant to the real world, the ideas are based in a deep understanding of business thinking (presumably originating in his "part-time academic" activities).
It is a big claim, but having read many business books over the last 15 years or so, I believe this could be the most important since the Fifth Discipline. I recommend it to managers, consultants and students alike - it deserves to become a classic.
In the back of your mind you probably wonder why behaviours and cultures play out in organizations the way they do. Maybe its the latest reorg or executive decisions that has started you looking for a framework or science as to how the people, parts and processes of a company operate together. Hoverstadt's book provides the answers for us.
Using Stafford Beer's Viable System Model, Hoverstadt brings it in to today's business times and makes it very accessible for us all to read and understand. The examples he uses resonate with our own experiences.
A highly recommended read but remember the "red pill" warning!
The book is well written - and not too heavily academic - and provides an insightful analysis of why large organisations with traditional "command and control" hierarchies don't work well. In brief, the reasons might be summarised as politics, poor coordination and communication, and competing interests; but Mr Hoverstadt spends several hundred pages discussing the many aspects of dysfunctionality. There is much good stuff there - I experienced a "lightbulb" moment reading the section on performance measures (chapter 9) and the chapter on Managing Change is excellent. However, this is not really what I was looking for in this book. I would have been happy with a one-chapter summary as I have ready many such analyses before and, to be honest, I didn't think that was what this book was meant to be about. For example, there is one chapter on the problems with performance management (appraisal). I have read dozens of similar discussions, and Mr Hoverstadt's ideas to correct these problems are much the same as those elsewhere - they don't relate in any particular way to the Viable Systems Model.
And that, for me, is the problem with this book. There is a great deal on the problems of traditional organisation structures, but that is not what I wanted from this book - there are many such examinations. What I wanted is detail on the Viable Systems Model and how it should work in practice. Sadly, this book is frustratingly vague on this point. We are told that the model comprises a set of management structures at all levels through the organisation, but there is no real detail on what this looks like in practice and how it works. Some case studies of good practice and discussion of how these structures work in real organisations would be really interesting. There are some vague hints in the book but nothing concrete enough to be helpful.
Mr Hoverstadt is clearly a very clever individual, and he writes well, but what I wanted was a book on the Viable Systems Model and how it works in organisations, not a lengthy review of why traditional structures don't work. Sadly, this book fails to make the Viable Systems Model tangible enough for most businesses to understand how they might go about developing such a structure. Disappointing.
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