Organizations that design systems are constrained to produce designs which are copies of the communication structures of these organizations.
Source: Melvin Conway via Lee Bryant, Post*Shift.
What is now the collection started life during the latter part of 2015 as a set of links to articles about Holacracy, a topic that had aroused my curiosity.
In the months that followed, I added more information until the web page became so big that I had to divide it into the group of articles listed above.
As you look through them, you may find yourself wondering about the terms operating system and operating model. Why use two different terms when they seem to be pretty much synonymous?
Let’s look at organizational operating system first.
This term, based on the metaphor of a computer operating system such as Unix or Linux, is how some people refer to Holacracy and its home-grown alternatives.
You are unlikely to find it in a glossary of traditional management terms, so here is my working definition:
Organizational operating system: A coherent and comprehensive set of protocols, procedures, roles, accountabilities and relationships setting out how work gets done in an enterprise, with an emphasis on structure, governance and day‑to‑day decision making.
In contrast, an operating model bridges the gap between an organization’s business strategy and its operational resources.
Source of definition: PwC document Ending the Endless Reorganization: Building an Adaptable Operating Model (pdf).
There is a certain amount of overlap between a self-organization operating system and an operating model, the extent of which will be determined by your preferred definition and chosen framework.
I hope these distinctions are clear enough for the time being and that you are now ready to dive into the deep waters of organization design and new ways of working.
Please note that I am agnostic regarding Holacracy, Teal organizations and other approaches mentioned in the collection. My role here is that of messenger rather than advocate.