the strategic design of organisations as time transformers



The newspaper The Economist (5 december 2015) wrote an interesting article about the speed in organisations. It gave me as a strategic organisation designer something to chew on. Here some quotes that started me thinking:

"The idea that time is speeding up is clearly popular. It is also plausible. There is just one problem. It is very hard to prove that it is actually happening."

"If firms are not experiencing an overall acceleration, though, they still need to pay new attention to time. In the 1930s Ronald Coase, an economist, argued that firms existed to perform tasks that entrepreneurs were unable to do easily through markets. But another way of thinking about firms is that they are time transformers, mediating the different time horizons of customers, staff, suppliers and owners."

"Forget frantic acceleration. Mastering the clock of business is about choosing when to be fast and when to be slow.”

Below are some results of the thought proces on the handling of time in organizations. They may help to come to grips with time without being too slow or too fast.

The first idea is about the space of time. That is the size and the characteristics of the subject that is handled combined with a time horizon. This space has a certain minimal critical size. Being really critical about the true size of the subject allows for a realistic pace.  

The second dimension is about the freedom to choose the frequency of the heartbeat of an organisation. It is about extending or shrinking the span of attention, resulting in slowing down or speeding up. We set the clock of the organisation.

A third idea that we can use to master time is the fact that the measure of time and our perception of time differ. Time is not as absolute as our clocks might indicate. It is a powerful concept to play with. A minute can be intensely short or immensely long. 

A last element is the existence of multiple paces and tempi within one organisation and these can be totally asynchronous. The behaviour of clients has different cycles than the quarterly financial updates. This is reality that can bother us, or we adjust our pace to the matter that we are dealing with at a certain point. No one speed fits all.

The idea of organisations as time transformers is interesting and provides great opportunities for strategic and organisational innovations.