Executive leadership morphs toward legislative leadership as complex governance and diffuse decision making emerge, according to Jim Collins. Many organizations plod along with some effectiveness as homes for legislative leadership – the ultimate example may be the U.S. Senate or a Quaker college where essentially any individual can stop the show.
“… a large number of institutions today employ governance structures inconsistent with their current activity.” Big idea: If you are approaching the legislative leadership end of the continuum don’t be surprised if you can’t manage change or collapse in crisis.
Diffuse decision making is when:
- Several individuals are involved in the making of a decision.
- These individuals are in different organizational levels, organizational units (at the same hierarchical level), and/or geographic locations.
- The decision is partitioned into several activities.
- Considerable time elapses between initiation and termination of the activity resulting in the decision (i.e., the point in time at which the decision is made is not distinct).
- A final decision results but is not “rigid” at any point in time (i.e., some flexibility continues to be exercised by participants in the decision).
Sound familiar? We once worked at an ethnographic management study of an organization and began to understand its idiosyncracies only when we finally saw an org chart that looked like a plate of spaghetti thrown against a wall. Insiders thought everyone operated that way. Even the smallest decision could be co-opted by 5-10 other people at different levels and in different locations around the world. It was an organization essentially condemned to constant crisis without hope of innovation or change. All five categories above were represented in nearly every decision.
As appropriate as diffuse decision making and complex governance may be for a university in stasis, change and crisis now rule almost everywhere. And if any university remains in stasis, we would all like to know who and where… (Nan Keohane allegedly said once that when doomsday came she wanted to be at Duke University, because everything there took a year longer … but not even Duke is in stasis.)
Experience would advise that radical governance change invariably suggests itself too late.
Is agile University an oxymoron?
[next... The Chicken Little Syndrome and synthetic organizations]
 Minor, J. T. (2006). A case of complex governance. Journal of the Professoriate, 1(2), 22-37.