As Merrelyn Emery has shown (here), the democratic approach to work out-performs other approaches across the board. It’s a conclusion she has tested and proven over and over again in the course of her career. But how can workers create democratic workplaces, starting from the traditional autocratic base? As any unionist will tell you, democracy can’t be installed from above; it must be resolved upon and built from the bottom up. As Hal Draper put it, “Only by fighting for democratic power do (workers) educate themselves up to the level of being able to wield that power.” In this article Emery helps unions in this struggle by describing the “participative design” process, which sets out to change organizations from autocracies (or laissez faire systems) to sustainable democracies.

Participative Design

Since the industrial revolution — around 1790 — organizations have been designed on the basis of two dimensions only: the economic and the technical (or technological). This organizational template encourages (if not engenders) competition and thus self interest. We have been creating and maintaining such structures and systems of management ever since.

These structures are unable to provide for the learning and personal development of members, particularly for the large numbers at the base of the pyramid. Worse, some workers are downgraded and de-skilled by their work experiences (e.g., assembly line and call centre workers). The bureaucratic conception of management’s task inhibits learning and growth. Bureaucratic structures have also been implicated in the current epidemic of mental illness (deGuerre et al, 2008).

As people become increasingly dissatisfied with their organization’s failures to meet their needs, they behave exactly as McGregor saw in 1970 – with indolence, passivity, resistance to change, lack of responsibility, willingness to follow the demagogue and unreasonable demands for economic benefits. Years of increasingly desperate managerial fads and fashions have failed to overcome these problems. Some of them have actually made things worse (deGuerre & Emery, 2008). Representative remedies such as joint councils and workers’ directors have also failed.

Reasons for the Participative Design Workshop (PDW)

The strategy and underlying assumptions described here depart radically from those previously employed in the UK and Norway. The reasons for these basic changes are simple.

The experimental phase for changing organizational structures from Design Principle 1 (DP1 — see part one) to DP2 finished with the success of the Norwegian Industrial Democracy project (Emery and Thorsrud, 1976). All that remained was diffusion, the process for quickly getting the ideas and most effective methods out to interested organizations.

Diffusion is an educational process. The most effective learning comes when people can experience ideas in action. During the work in Norway, the researchers found that the people who work in a particular section of the organization have by far the most detailed knowledge of it and require only the concepts and tools of organizational design in order to redesign it.

The early work on democratization used a process called STS. In STS, the social scientists, the experts, measured all the relevant factors in a workplace, designed the best solution and then asked the workforce to vote on whether they were happy to try it. It was, therefore, a top down practice. It was also extremely time consuming and expensive. It was not an appropriate process for speeding up diffusion. The researchers learnt that the top down approach creates an unhealthy reliance on outside experts and hinders the emergence of a self-sustaining learning process in the groups.

So the future method had to be quick, cheap and simple. It had to give ownership of the new design to the people who had to use it and in the process, it had to arm the employees with the conscious conceptual knowledge of the design principles and their effects. With this knowledge they can deliberately evolve their design towards greater group responsibility and effectiveness. Without it, the design will regress towards DP1. Simply setting up groups and calling them self-managing without their appreciation of what is entailed in responsibility for co-ordination and control, and without an opportunity to agree as a group on the ‘how’, can induce frustration and short-lived cohesion.

If groups of people are to be expected to take responsibility for self-management, it is important that they have designed their own section of the organization. The assumption underlying the method described here is that the most adequate and effective designs come from those who know the work. It is only from people pooling their various and usually fragmented, but always detailed, knowledge that a comprehensive and workable design can come. Moreover, it is only when the people involved work out their own designs that the necessary motivation, responsibility and commitment to effective implementation is present. The people must ‘own’ their section of the organization.

In the design of the participative design workshop (PDW) below, the role played by social scientists today is to transfer knowledge and ensure that employees have the very best environment in which to learn how to design, and come up with the best possible design for their organization or section of it. It is much more congruent with the philosophy and ideals of democracy itself.

Within the process of participative design there are problems and questions common to all technologies. Only the most common and fundamental of these are included here. As will become obvious from the following discussions, the philosophy of participation has been translated into practical methods that are appropriate not only to industrial and white collar/clerical work sites, but also to communities and educational institutions (Williams, 1975; 1982). All organizations, temporary or permanent, explicitly or implicitly contain one of the design principles.

We have now learnt a lot about how to most effectively design the settings within which people can learn to redesign their own organizations. The lessons learnt over many years are described below.

Design of the workshop


  • Briefing 1.   6 criteria, DP1 and its consequences
  • Groups fill in matrices for 6 criteria and skills held


  • Briefing 2.   DP2 and its consequences
  • Groups draw up the workflow and formal legal structure and redesign the structure


  • Briefing 3:   Additional design tasks
  • Groups do the additional tasks

The day begins with general introductions and a run through of the plan, explaining the purpose and process of each part. This is essential even though the teams have had briefings in advance. Everybody gets the same message at the same time and, because it stays up on the wall, everyone can see how the work is progressing relative to time constraints.

The first briefing deals with explanations of Design Principle 1 and its effects. It explains how it is almost impossible for people to get their psychological needs met in a DP1 structure and how DP1 also causes problems with things such as communication. These psychological needs or requirements are called the 6 criteria for short. It concludes with detailed instructions for creating and completing the two matrices which the groups then do.

Presentation of this content appears to be most effective when it is simple, brief and visual. It is infrequent that clarification of basic concepts is requested. They seem to be readily grasped, regardless of the educational level of the participants.

The second briefing deals with Design Principle 2 and its effects in terms of the 6 criteria, skills and communication. This briefing also deals with the multi-skilled and alternative models and possible overall organizational designs. It discusses some of the practical matters involved such as group size and ends with instructions for drawing up the workflow and structure and for redesigning the latter.

The groups then redesign their section of the structure and when a group arrives at a design that the workshop managers can sign off as workable, the third briefing is presented and the practicalities addressed.

Preparation and planning

Like any other venture, democratization will be only as successful as the quality of its planning. PDWs are preceded by comprehensive preparation. Obviously, nobody is going to embark on PDWs for a serious effort at democratization until they are sure that it is what it claims to be. Similarly, no serious social scientist or practitioner would want an organization to rush ahead without being totally informed of what is involved and what the changes will mean. Once a practitioner receives an invitation to discuss democratization, the normal preparation and planning has the following steps:

  • The practitioner must take every step to ensure that the senior management of the enterprise and its associated unions are well informed of the concepts, the processes involved and the outcomes. They must understand that changing the design principle is a systemic decision which will ultimately require a change in pay and classification systems amongst other possible changes. How this education is achieved will depend on the organization and its circumstances.
  • After a decision to proceed is made and if the enterprise is unionized, there must be at least a draft agreement in place specifying the terms of the change. This agreement needs to have as its core a clause relocating responsibility for co-ordination and control at the level where work is being done, i.e. DP2. The agreement should also include clauses for quite predictable matters such as how the additional productivity is to be shared. Another is dealing with guarantees that:
  • There is no going backwards in terms of pay and conditions, and
  • There will be no direct involuntary redundancies as a result of the process. These guarantees mean that management must accept that there will be increased costs for a temporary period and that people whose positions have been designed out must be productively accommodated.
  • While the agreement is being negotiated, the rest of the organization must be educated. This usually takes the form of about 2 hour meetings in which the practitioner does a briefing followed by extensive Q & A. The briefing concerns the concepts, the change of design principle and its effects, about the design of the PDWs and what it entails. It is helpful if a representative from both management and unions is present during these meetings.
  • Once the education is finished, the practitioner must be ready with a plan for how the workshops are to be rolled out if the organization is too large for the design task to be accomplished in one workshop, which is usually the case. Then the workshops swing into action.

The legally binding agreement for a change in design principle is critical for the sustainability of the new structure. Without it, the changes are not legally binding and their sustainability is subject to the whim of management. The history of democratization is littered with examples of brilliantly working and productive organizations that were turned backwards and destroyed because of mergers, acquisitions or a mere change of CEO or Managing Director.

Generally, the most important criterion to be observed is the size and composition of the group doing the design. Given a small, discrete or well-defined section or unit, say 4-15 persons, it is best that everybody in that unit works together on the design.

In large sections or in continuous process operations, it is necessary to take at least one ‘deep slice’ through the section where every level and as many skills and functions are present as possible. This ‘deep slice’ was used as a strategic technique for the first time in Australia in 1971.

In general, the rule is that the slice should mimic the ratio of the numbers in the levels in the section. Once the unit understands the form of the deep slice, they choose the individuals according to the criteria of size and ratio. For SAMCOR[1], the Yearling Hall selected as its deep slice two labourers, two slaughterers, the rover and the floater (first line supervisors for slaughterers and labourers respectively), the broadwalker (superintendent of the Yearling Hall), and the fitter. Present also for part of the time were the Secretary of the Meat Workers Union, the General Manager of SAMCOR and the Worker Director of the Board. One each of the labourers and slaughterers were union delegates on the floor.

Shifts have to be designed as separate units, as obviously they have different people and usually different numbers and levels. It is not unusual for a ‘graveyard shift’ to self manage. It is obviously not a feasible alternative to have separate groups working on part solutions or aspects of a section design.

In large units or sections there are various ways of getting wide participation through workshops. Mixed teams from the same unit can work in parallel in the same workshop on an overall design which can be integrated, or different teams can do designs for the whole unit in different workshops which can be compared and integrated later on.

The basic rule of PDWs is that no design can be imposed. Even if circumstances dictate that only one vertical slice team can attend a workshop, they have a responsibility, and are instructed, to take home:

  • Most importantly, the concepts and process so that everybody completes the matrices, and;
  • Secondarily, their draft design in order to get a final design that the whole unit has participatively contributed to.

In large organizations with many levels of dominant hierarchy and diverse operations and products, it will be necessary to run PD workshops that have overlapping membership of the middle ranks. This increases the options for middle management as well as ensuring greater coherence of design and learning up and down the old hierarchy.

There is itself a design art in the ways in which PD workshops are put together — with parallel teams or with mirror groups, sorted with different organizational purposes in mind. These options have been elaborated in ‘Further Learnings about Participative Design’, (Emery M, 1993).

As we saw in Part one of this article (here), the reasons for the proven superiority of the “group solution” have emerged, rather painfully, over the past forty- five years of laboratory and field experiments. The basics of this solution must be conveyed to the workshop participants so they fully understand the ideas and implications of the change they are about to make. The next section covers the first briefing that participants receive at the beginning of the workshop.

Briefing 1: The six psychological requirements and DP1

Most of our organizations are designed on the basis of two dimensions only: the economic and the technical (or technological). Because the third, human, dimension is missing from the design of bureaucratic structures, it is necessary to redesign it back in. Investigations in Europe, Scandinavia, Australia, North America and India have enabled social scientists to identify a number of important determinants of the psychological requirements of productive activity, located both in the dynamics of person-task relations and in the social climate of the organization (Emery & Thorsrud, 1969).

The human dimension has a hard core of six such requirements, called ‘the 6 criteria’. They have been shown to work in every country and culture in which they have been used, and could be regarded as a species-wide characteristic.

In particular, the first three requirements, which refer to the content of the job, need to be optimal for any given individual and flexible to meet variations in individual need; e.g., from day to day, or morning to afternoon. For the second three which reside in the organizational culture, the more of them the better.

The Six Criteria

1. Adequate elbow room.
The sense that we are our own boss and that, except in exceptional circumstances, we do not have some boss breathing down our necks. However, not too much elbow room so that we don’t know what to do next.

2. Continuous Learning.
Such learning is possible only when people are able to (a) set goals that are reasonable challenges for them and (b) get accurate feedback in time for them to correct their behaviour. This learning drives innovation.

3. An optimal level of variety.
The ability to vary our work so as to avoid boredom and fatigue and so as to gain the best advantages from settling into a satisfying rhythm of work.

4. Mutual support and respect.
People need to be able to automatically get and give help from their work mates. There also needs to be respect for the contribution made regardless of matters such as IQ.

5. Meaningfulness.
We need a sense that our work contributes to social welfare in some way. That is, it should not be something that might just as well be done by a trained monkey. Nor should it be something that society would be better without. Meaningfulness includes both the worth of the work, and having knowledge of the whole product or service. Many jobs which are meaningful in the first sense have been downgraded because individuals see only such a small part of the final product that its meaning is denied them.

6. A desirable future.
Put simply, we do not want dead-end jobs; but ones with a career path that will continue to allow for personal growth and increasing skills.

“Unions must be involved from the very beginning and continue to be involved until a new stable DP2 organization is achieved.”

Experience has shown that these psychological requirements cannot be met by simply tweaking individual job specifications; e.g., job enlargement, rest pauses, supervisory contacts. They are also almost impossible to achieve in a DP1 structure even when the organization has worked hard to provide good conditions of employment. The briefing then goes on to analyze DP1 in terms of the 6 criteria and flow on effects.

Referring back to the previous article in this series (accessible here), the basic module or building brick of a DP1 structure is a collection of people with a supervisor. This is the option that achieves flexibility by containing redundant parts where the parts are people. The critical feature of DP1 is that responsibility for coordination and control are located at least one level above where the work, learning or planning is being done. Therefore, the DP1 organization is autocratic or bureaucratic, involving the operationalization of the master-servant relation. In other words, in DP1, those above have the right and responsibility to tell those below what to do and how to do it. It is a structure of personal dominance, a dominant hierarchy. Controls might be sloppy or tight but the principle is the same.

The module can be indefinitely repeated upwards to the directly reporting functional managers and the managing director. It is the organizational form that put up the pyramids and China’s Great Wall. Understanding how the design principles work in practice shows why all the phenotypical or superficial changes advocated by the many fads and fashions in change management have no chance of changing things in the long term. Such manipulations leave DP1 in place — the power structure and communication pattern remain unchanged.

Control (vertical) and co-ordination (horizontal) are the two dimensions of organization and responsibility for both is vested in the supervisor. S/he controls subordinates by specifying what the individuals A, B, C, etc will do, vis-a-vis the jobs allotted to them, X, Y, Z, etc. S/he achieves coordination across the section by manipulating the work loads of individuals to take care of the interdependence between individual jobs.

When we analyse this structure, we see immediately that it produces competition. At the most trivial level, there is only one supervisory position and A, B and C are in competition for it. As soon as people are forced to compete, they have to look after their own interests and so self interest comes to dominate life in a DP1 structure. All the team building in the world cannot change this dynamic.

In DP1 structures, employees almost universally develop an informal system or shadow organization to turn the requirements of co-ordination to their advantage; e.g.;

1. `Dargs’ and other restrictive but informal production norms to reduce the productive potential with which the supervisor might do some shuffling;

2. Cliques, whereby subgroups in the section make life easier by collaring for themselves the productive potential in co-ordination.

Because the purposes of these cliques are personal, designed to improve such factors as mutual support and respect, they tend to organize themselves around bases for common trust; e.g., religion, ethnicity, old school. They are not there to help the organization so they do not organize themselves around the task.

It is inherently difficult to get good levels of the 6 criteria in a DP1 structure.

Elbow room. If the supervisor is doing their job properly, and particularly if there is a manual of standard operating procedures, there are virtually no decisions for workers to make.

Setting own goals and challenges. Goals are typically set by the supervisor, who will set them according to the needs of the task. Typically, supervisors underestimate the skills and knowledge of subordinates, thereby further reducing the chance of a challenge to enhance learning.

Feedback. It is notoriously difficult to get accurate and timely feedback in DP1 structures, even in organizations that have spent millions of dollars on the problem. This is because the structure militates against it. Because of the inherent competition, it is not in the interests of the others to tell them how to fix a mistake, because by allowing this to continue, they look relatively better.

Variety. One person-one job is by definition not variety increasing. It produces boredom.

Mutual support and respect. Competition seriously affects this criterion as well. If one worker has a drug, alcohol or mental health problem, s/he will typically be isolated through concerns about ‘guilt by association’. Whistle blowers, target busters or anybody who risks what is perceived to be the road to individual advancement is treated badly.

Social value. As the value placed on an activity is largely a matter of the broader societal or community value system, this criterion is less affected than others. That said, within the hierarchy of activities in a section or organization, there will be less respect or concern for those with the least valued jobs.

Seeing whole product/service. Obviously, where there are high inter-dependencies, a person on one spot on the process line has no chance of seeing the whole product as it emerges many, many jobs away. Similarly, in professional organizations such as consultancy firms, consultants are brought in to use a particular expertise, then leave again without ever knowing whether the problem was solved or the organization became more efficient.

Desirable future. No matter how many skills a person may bring to a position, the only learning and skills maintenance possible in a job is limited by the scope of that job. All other skills and knowledge are degraded over time. Additional skills and training are frequently wasted by lack of opportunities to practice. Attempts to practice by assuming parts of another person’s job can be severely resisted.

As the 6 criteria are the intrinsic motivators, we can see why over time, DP1 structures de-motivate. No amount of money can compensate for the loss of motivation and despite the beliefs of many HR managers, turnover and absenteeism has more to do with lack of intellectual satisfaction and motivation than lack of money (Emery, 2010).

Communication problems are typically blamed on employees having personality conflicts, but competitive structures distort both the quality and quantity of communication and accentuate personality differences. If A, confronted with new circumstances, believes that they need help from B, the communication is still up to the supervisor and, as s/he sees fit, down to the subordinates. The communication that is needed to reflect and cope with changing task requirements is channelled through a filter/amplifier system. It is labelled on one side `us’ and the other side `them’. The goals of the supervisor are those that concern the section’s overall performance, and are explicitly no business of the subordinates. Their goals concern the performance standards set for sub-tasks X, Y, Z, etc. This means that communications are going to be amplified and attenuated in the same task-related channel, by different criteria. The “us’s” will amplify what makes them look good vis-a-vis their own task performance or relative to their colleagues. They will hear as little of the downward communication as suits them and they can get away with. The supervisor will be anxious to hear and remember what will sound good to his or her supervisor, including excuses for poor performance.

Communication can be a major weapon at any level of the hierarchy, including the top. The easiest way to keep somebody powerless is to deny them accurate information or feed them misinformation. Group warfare can break out at any level and can be pursued both vertically and horizontally.

Group work on matrices for 6 criteria and skills held

After the first briefing, people go into their groups to fill in the matrices for 6 criteria and skills held. Because the first three criteria need to be optimal for each individual, these three are scored from -5 (too little) to +5 (too much), with 0 being optimal, just right. As the second three criteria are things you can never have too much of, they are scored from 0 (none) to 10 (lots). Each individual puts up their own scores but final group product will express the agreed relativities of scores across the section.

Table 1. Matrix for the 6 Criteria

Psychological Criteria
Mary Jim John Alice Joe
1. Elbow room for decision making -2 0 -1 -3 -2
2. Learning:
a) setting goals
b) getting feedback
3. Variety -3 5 0 4 -3
4. Mutual Support and Respect 8 4 2 8 8
5. Meaningfulness:
a) socially useful
b) seeing whole product
6. Desirable Future 3 7 6 2 2


The pattern in the matrix in Table 1 is fairly typical. Sections organized on Design Principle 1 typically show a majority of low scores on the first three criteria. Scores on the second three are more unpredictable.

The other advantages of this first analysis are,

  • Firstly, that any misconceptions of the criteria are hammered out by the group and a common and well founded understanding is established; and
  • Secondly, this first task is usually sufficient for members of the team to become acquainted with each other if they have not worked together closely on site.

This is necessary because of the fragmentation that has taken place, but a cohesive work group is formed fairly fast when people are discussing their own jobs.

The workshop managers report on these matrices so that participants can learn to use these as diagnostic tools. The results are taken into account in later phases.

The second task for the groups is to draw up and fill in a matrix of skills and knowledge currently held. Firstly, they must list the essential skills required in the section to make it work. Then, using a simple scale of 0 for none of a particular skill, and one tick for a sufficient level of skill to back up and two ticks for a high level of skill, the groups compile a collective picture. If a particular ticket or qualification is required, that must be on the list. The skills and knowledge listed must be those that can be objectively measured, competencies. The workshop manager will not allow items such as ‘decision making’ which is something everybody can do and does, or ‘listening’ which is a matter of motivation. Items such as ‘communication skills’ must be broken down into items such as ‘technical report writing’ or ‘presentation’ skills.

Table 2. Matrix for Skills and Knowledge Currently Held

 Essential Skills  Mary  Jim  John Alice  Joe
 A  XX  0  0  0  0
 B  X  X  X  X  XX
 C  0  XX  XX  0  X
 D  X  XX  XX  0  0
 E  X  XX  X  0  X

The workshops manager will discuss the matrix with the group to ensure it is adequate as the coverage of skills and knowledge in the section will partly determine the date on which the change of design principle will occur. Table 2 shows that skill A is inadequate at the moment as there is no back up for Mary so some training will be required before the group can go into operation. DP2 demands greater cover of knowledge and skills than DP1.

Briefing 2: DP2 and its contrasting effects

The basic module of a DP2 structure is a self-managing group, that option which achieves flexibility by adding redundant functions to the parts, in other words, by adding more skills and knowledge to each person. The critical feature of DP2 is that responsibility for control and coordination is located with the people who are doing the work, learning or planning (see part one). As described below, there are several variations on self-managing groups.

Because they are taking responsibility for their own work and behaviour, a DP2 organization is called democratic. In DP2, there may still be a hierarchy, however it is a hierarchy of functions. In large DP2 structures, the functional levels may consist (for example) of three levels — strategic management of the organization as a whole, resourcing and operations. Each level consists of one or more self-managing groups, but there are no relations of dominance. Change can be initiated by any part of the organization and all change is negotiated by peers.

The democratic organizational module has markedly different potentials. The first and obvious feature is that there are no individual jobs or positions. Workers are now jointly responsible for all the tasks and all the inter-dependencies and interactions. They are also responsible for monitoring and controlling the contributions of members, organizing themselves to cope with individual and task variations and meeting their agreed group goals.

DP2 structures engender cooperation and affect the 6 criteria and communication in ways that are starkly different from DP1.

Elbow room. The group now has many decisions to make but if one worker does not like making decisions, s/he can leave them to those who do.

Setting own goals and challenges. Within the set of group goals, there are many sub-goals. In the process of working out who will do which task and when, individuals have plenty of room to build in challenges for their own learning.

Feedback. Because it is the group as a whole that is held responsible for meeting its goals, it is now in the in the interests of them all to ensure an errant worker fixes the mistake.

Variety. People who thrive on variety have it available, while people who prefer less can stick to one task for longer.

Mutual support and respect. There are examples in the literature and folk lore of people with intellectual disabilities who grew remarkably after becoming a member of a self managing group. DP2 structures provide the individual with a human scale of organization (a work ‘home’, ‘family’ or territory), whereby people feel they fit into the organization, no matter how large that may be. If one worker has a drug, alcohol or mental health problem, they will be the subject of group concern and care. The only danger here is that groups may persevere with this past the point where the person concerned should be referred to professional help.

Social value. People in DP2 structures actively work to promote the value of their activities and its outcomes.

Seeing whole product/service. One of the criteria of good DP2 design is that a group has a whole task to consider. A characteristic of DP2 organizations is a high level of knowledge of the organization, so that if the group’s end product is still simply a component, individuals still understand the meaning of their contribution.

Desirable future. The ambitious now have the full range of skills and knowledge available within the “group task” to learn. Work can be organized so that individuals maintain their skills through practice.

Communication and power within these groups take on markedly different characteristics to those we find in DP1 structures. There is no ‘them’ and ‘us’ in DP2, as ‘we’ are all in it together. (Emery & Emery, 1976). This is why communication and power cannot be taken as basic variables of organizational design. They are universally present attributes of organization, but they do not tell us much of relevance about what is communicated, what is commanded.

Changes in organizational design affect the nature of communication. However, the reverse does not hold. Provided we have a group and not just a collection of individuals or a mob, that is, the group has accepted responsibility for group goals, then it will seek to make its life easier (or more productive for their ends) by:
(a) communicating quickly, directly and openly the needs for co-ordination arising from task or individual variability;
(b) allocating tasks and other rewards and punishments to control what they consider to be a fair contribution by members.

Such groups can get a sense of their over-riding group responsibility only if they have at least four members (with three it is too often a matter of just interpersonal relations – shifting coalitions of two against one). While the minimum size is four, the upper limit depends on factors such as technology. Groups show good judgement in determining the right size group to meet task demands.

These groups are self-managing, not autonomous as they often were in cottage industry. They are working with materials and equipment for which the organization must get an adequate return. They are working in conditions where the organization, not they, is responsible for observing the mass of social legislation laid down for basic pay rates, safety, product quality, etc.

Differing organizational circumstances will determine the range of responsibilities for different operational groups but functions such as hiring and firing are not included as these functions are covered by groups in other levels of the functional hierarchy. Operational groups though are certainly involved in these decisions.

In self managing groups, the roles of spokespeople, leadership and training move around the group as circumstances and needs change. Multi-skilling does not mean that everybody must be able to do everything. It simply needs to be sufficient to allow flexible allocation of work within the group, and to encourage the cohesiveness of the group. How they allocate the work is their responsibility.

Alternatives to full multi-skilled self-managing groups

There are two major alternatives to a comprehensive, multi-skilled model. The first covers circumstances where, for whatever reason (specialist skill or knowledge level or legal demarcations), sharing work is not possible. The second applies to non-stable work, i.e. work that comes in as discrete projects, where each project is different.

In a research lab there may be highly skilled statisticians, biochemists and glass blowers. Each has a special contribution to make and while overall success depends on the effective co-ordination of their activities, each person cannot become expert in all of the required disciplines. We often have the same problem at the senior management level.

Variations in DP2 Systems

In the figure above, in diagram 2, we see the managing director with functional managers for production, finance, marketing, personnel and administration, R & D etc. They are typically chosen for their expertise and it is not expected that the production manager will be as good at financial matters as the finance manager. They, in turn, expect to be judged and rewarded for their expertise.

In the previous DP1 structure, each manager was held responsible only for control of their department. In DP2, it is necessary to locate responsibility for co-ordination clearly and firmly with those whose efforts require co-ordination if the common objectives are to be achieved. While control, the vertical dimension, cannot be shared, there is no reason why they cannot accept group coordination.

In other words, the functional manager is judged and rewarded, or punished, as much for his or her effective coordination as for the ability to propose and implement policies in their division of the organization. Collectively, the functional managers become the operating group at the strategic level and the MD rides the boundary between the environment and the group bringing in strategic intelligence from the environment.

If coordination fails, the MD must sort out whether it is because one or more of them is incapable or unwilling to find a suitable compromise or whether the framework of policy that s/he is responsible for creating is inadequate.

In the first case the MD must decide on re-education or redeployment; in the second, s/he must move from the normal operating mode into a strategic planning and policy making mode. The MD and managers need to remain in this mode only long enough to create an adequate framework for future operations.

This modified DP2 design makes it easier to identify a potential MD. In the competitive DP1 environment, it is difficult to assess competing claims. With a group, it is easy to see who has the best overall grasp of the organization’s potential to succeed.

Another variation of the DP2 structure is shown as alternative 3 in the figure above. It illustrates a small organization that consists of overlapping project teams. An example is the USA Forest Service, where each forest contains a range of specialists in silviculture, fire management, archaeology, zoology etc. The only stable work is clerical and this is handled by a small self-managing group. Projects come in (from Washington or the local community) and may take anywhere between a few hours to many years to complete. Staff may be working on a variety of projects at any time with different percentages of their effort allocated to different project types.

When a new project comes in, all those available to make the decision as to how to staff it, meet and allocate the work. In this small, very dynamic form of DP2, everybody knows who is doing what with which skills and knowledge. The whole is, therefore, the decision-making body, while project teams make the decisions about completing the project once it has begun.

In a large organization, all of these various types of DP2 can be mixed and matched without problem.

Redesigning the structure

After the second briefing, the groups first draw up the workflow(s) through the section which is essential information as people in fragmented jobs often have no sense of the whole section. Where does the work come from? What sort of decisions must be made about it? Where does it go from there? While the workflow is mainly for information, it may throw up obvious break points around which groups can naturally form.

Groups must have sufficient time for them to consider several options for redesign. An interim plenary can be useful as groups learn from each others’ efforts and compare notes on options. When a group has a final design that the workshop managers consider workable, the third briefing is given.

Briefing 3: Practicalities for effective working

The third briefing outlines the further series of tasks which will help the groups ensure that their designs will work. It includes instructions for spelling out:

  • A comprehensive and measurable set of goals and targets for the section;
  • Their requirements for essential training before start up of the new design;
  • What else is required  such as layout changes, equipment, mechanisms for internal co-ordination and external relations;
  • A career path based on payment for proven skills/knowledge held and broadbanded, and;
  • An explanation of how their design will improve the scores on their matrix for the 6 criteria.

It is essential that goal setting is done with thought and care. It is this set of goals that controls the work of the groups and it must, therefore, be realistic as well as challenging. When the goals are only targets for quantity, the group can deteriorate into a ‘gang’ which ignores quality and the needs of its members in the rush to get the work out.

What is required is a comprehensive and measurable set of goals, including occupational health and safety, environmental and social responsibility and human needs. Every aspect of the work must have a goal attached.

To assess their training requirements, group return to their skills matrix and estimate who needs which training in what form, on the job or otherwise, time required and cost. The skills and knowledge matrix is also used as the basis of a new pay system based on skills and knowledge held. Drafts are later passed over to professional career path designers.

The ‘what else’ category involves groups examining their new design for all possible implications and designing solutions where necessary. Showing how their new design will improve scores on the 6 criteria is a check on the quality of the design. Completing these tasks in the workshop is not essential. It is important, however, that they get a feeling for the tasks which can be finalized later and then negotiated with management as it currently stands.

Final reports are given and relevant managers should be present to hear these, particularly if groups for example, give notice of significant changes or ideas about merging existing sections.

Participation of unions, other management and loners

The industrial conditions today are radically different from what they were when the original PD paper was written. However, there is still the same need for ownership and understanding of the design principles and their implications by both union representatives and all levels of the organization. Unions must be involved from the very beginning and continue to be involved until a new stable DP2 organization is achieved.

It is assumed that management has an up-to-date set of strategic goals. If this is not the case, there needs to be a Search Conference in which a strategic plan is developed. Any smart management will involve unions in this process.

Top management and unions should jointly announce the decision to democratize and state the purposes as they see them. They should stay in touch with the whole process as it develops. Management will better appreciate the organizational implications concerning, for example, training requirements and possible costs thereof if they are present at the end to hear the groups present their designs, goals and other practicalities. Remember that in large organizations they will be involved in their own PDW where they will redesign the DP2 management structure and integrate the designs from other levels, without changing them.

Loners can usually be accommodated by groups by designing around them. This does not present difficulties unless the ‘loner’ is in a position where, by opting out, s/he denies others the opportunity to learn new skills/knowledge, or to experience much better working conditions, e.g. the air conditioned office rather than the hot bottling floor. In these cases, the loner must be denied.

The workshop manager(s)

In these workshops it is not necessary that the outsiders are experts in the field of work that is being designed. Their job is to help the assembled workers and management pool their knowledge and use their expertise, wisdom and brains. This does entail enough familiarity with the work in question to follow the discussions and sense when bottle-necks are emerging, red herrings being pursued or when pseudo-obstacles or conflicts are being generated (it is remarkable to find in any workplace how many things are technically impossible — things that have been done in ‘the place next door’ for years). But this role is a long way from that of the expert who presents the best solutions. When mirror groups are built into the workshop, they perform the questioning role.

An outsider is required for PDWs as an insider will inevitably get caught up in organizational politics. PDW managers are process managers, external resources and are very much hands on the content. As an external resource they can help broaden the workshop’s range of experience and deepen their analysis. They are experts in organizational design and have a responsibility to ensure that all designs will work.

PDW for design

There is a modification of the PDW when an organization must be designed from scratch. This form is the appropriate one for Greenfield sites, research project teams that do not exists in an organizational context, and for the design of organizations and communities that have responsibility for implementing the action plans produced by a Search conference. This modified form is discussed in Searching (1999).


It should be restated that these are only a selection of the issues that arise in a change of design principle. This discussion is drawn from the experiences of those who have worked towards successful implementation, but the reader is reminded that ‘credulous imitation’ is rarely a formula for success. The most effective designs are more likely to be achieved by those involved in their own unique variant of people, circumstances and technology.


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Emery, M. (1993). Participative design for participative democracy. Centre for Continuing Education, Australian National University.

Emery, M. (1999). Searching: The theory and practice of making cultural change. Amsterdam and Philadelphia: John Benjamin Publishing.

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[1] South Australian Meat Corporation

About the author:

Merrelyn Emery is currently Adjunct Professor at the Department of Applied Human Sciences, Concordia University, Australia. She has a PhD in Marketing and has written and co-written extensively (particularly with Fred Emery) many books and journal articles in areas such as participative democracy, change processes, open systems theory, sustainable futures, organizational culture and education.