Title: Leading organisations without boundaries: ‘quantum’ organisation and the work of making meaning
Author: Philip Boxer
Organisational & Social Dynamics 14(1) 130-153 (2014)
Digitalisation and the internet lead every client to expect more dynamic interaction with their situation, context and timing. Familiar examples from the perspective of the client are healthcare, financial services, air travel, mobile apps and the home delivery of food. An organisation that is interacting dynamically in different ways with each of its clients is best understood as being without boundaries. This paper uses a ‘quantum’ metaphor to think about this, considering each client interaction as a ‘quantum’. This leads to an understanding of the role of governance that can be ‘horizontal’ in its effects. Emery and Trist argued that while open-systems models enabled material exchange processes to be dealt with between the organisation and elements in its environment, “they did not deal with those processes in the environment itself which were the determining conditions of the exchanges… which were themselves often incommensurate with the organisation’s internal and exchange processes”. This led Emery and Trist to restrict the term “socio-technical” to ‘operative’ organisations, distinguishing them from ‘regulative’ or ‘referent’ organisations, which were instead focussed on inter-organisational behaviours within an ecosystem of organisations with differing interests. Accepting this difference means losing a direct identification between a physical system and the system of meaning that it reifies, forcing us to abandon the direct identification of boundary with container. In its place, the paper argues that the regulative or referent work of ‘quantum’ organisation has to be understood as one of making meaning within a larger ecosystem. The paper uses examples from healthcare to elaborate on this use of the ‘quantum’ metaphor, and draws conclusions about the leadership needed by these organisations without boundaries.