I am writing this on my way back from Brussels, where I attended a workshop convened by Richard Burton (pictured above) and Børge Obel, two leading academics.
They are the initiators of a global community of scholars, consultants and executives who are interested in developing better approaches for designing more effective organizations.
One important driver is a growing dissatisfaction with current organizational theory, which has become an increasingly irrelevant discipline.
Few managers are active users of academic research, which is not surprising, since academics have few incentives to produce research that is viewed as relevant.
To give just one indicator of the gap between research and practice, take a look at the chart below. In one survey, only 1% of HR managers reported that they were frequent users of academic research.
This result can be compared with similar studies of research utilization in other professions. One study in Canada among physicians (both general practitioners and specialists) found that 82% had downloaded one or more scientific articles from an internet database during an 8-month study.
What Richard and Børge are talking about is the need to create a new field, a field that has an impact. Here’s how they formulated the purpose of the workshop that I attended:
Today’s complex, dynamic, and highly interconnected global economy has made the ability to design and redesign organizations critically important (…) the field of organization theory and behavior has failed to deliver insights that can inform practice and guide change for desired outcomes and performance.
Organizational theory is important for the design knowledge base, but it is incomplete in content and largely silent on the process of design and change.
Organizational architecture, on the other hand (…) can be thought of as an applied science – a “scientific art” – similar to engineering in the physical sciences or medicine in the biological sciences.
To achieve this status, we need to develop a theory for application, going beyond the current research focus in organization theory and incorporating many other disciplines.
A key initial goal is to ensure that there is a critical mass of people – the community currently has around 80 members but Richard and Børge are intent on increasing this number. They plan an annual meeting where members will be invited to present and discuss contributions. Another important element is the establishment of a new journal. The editor is Charles Snow, a well known US academic.
If you are interested in following the development of the community there is a Linkedin group where news and announcements are posted.