Rebel in me. When managers rebel

When managers rebel

This is a book review I did for a Law journal back in 2010. It presages an interest in different modes of engagement and variations on organisational hierarchy.

When Managers Rebel by David Courpasson and Jean-Claude Thoenig (Translated to English by Matthew Cush) Palgrave Macmillan, Basingstoke, 181 pages

The authors, two French sociologists, have worked with a range of organisations for over 20 years, carrying out surveys and running training programmes. They only recently became interested in exploring executive rebellion thematically, having previously considered individual accounts as random aberrant behaviours.

Reviewing two decades worth of notes, Courpasson and Thoenig have examined over 40 instances of managers saying ‘I’ve had enough!’ (or its French equivalent). The authors have analysed these stories to understand and consider if it’s possible to harness the creative energy of office rebellions and if organisations can benefit from structural changes, especially in decision-making.

The accounts come from banking, building, construction, engineering, manufacturing, steel milling and other industries. The narratives focus on the boundaries between individuals and the organization and the points of friction between top management and the plans they seek to implement on middle management and the organisation below. They feel authentic, are engaging and compelling and are written in a clear flowing form.

The closing chapters link the narratives to the need for more evolved organisational forms, proposing concepts and definitions including adhocracy (relatively informal structures favoured by professionals), post-bureaucracy (informed consensus through shared goals) heterarchy (self-managing non-hierarchical networks) and polyarchy (essentially, majority rule).

This a fascinating work, in the ongoing tradition of French philosophical review. The language of rebellion and revolt echoes the Gallic experience and adds energy to the bureaucratic back-room behaviours described in the case studies.
As a reader, I was left with an impression of the wasted potential in organisations, through flawed communication primarily, that left people shaken, disheartened and ‘walking out the door.’

This book is highly readable but I feel the ideas need be liberated from the language of the social scientists and translated, for the rest of us. Not just in words but in models for action. This is a work for business schools, current and future business leaders, HR and organizational development specialists and anyone else interested in making workplaces less wasteful and more humane places to work to engage with.

We need to act, to take these emerging forms and patterns and make them happen to establish and build vital post-hierarchical organisations that support creativity and innovation as well as perform key functions better, faster, cheaper and sustainably.

When Managers Rebel