New Organizational Forms, Social Identity, and Learning

The globalization of markets and rapid advance of new technology is making competition increasingly knowledge-based in terms of the premium attached to innovation and to early awareness of changing market conditions. Non-business organizations are not immune either from pressures for new and improved services and responsiveness to public demands. These conditions clearly favor organizations that are fast learners and able to change quickly (March, 1995). Consequently, there has been a search for new forms of organization that reduce internal identity barriers, or transcend external identity differences, in the interest of improving learning capabilities and adaptability.

The new thinking on organization encompasses a move away from rigid bureaucratic structures toward the adoption of flexible unconventional forms. The contemporary design paradigm is shifting away from the hierarchy, in which it is assumed that the most valuable knowledge is held by top managers, and toward a ‘distributed network of minds’ (Gibson, 1997:8). Authority, power, responsibility, and resources are decentralized to semi-autonomous teams or work groups consisting of knowledgeable, professional, or multi-skilled, staff (Barley, 1996). They can also include relevant ‘outsiders’ such as suppliers and customers. These teams and work groups work with a high degree of local initiative, though it is recognized that their knowledge-creating activities need ...

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