Adapting to the Changing Environment: A Theoretical Comparison of Decision Making Proficiency of Lean and Mass Organization Systems

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Abstract

In this paper weexamine the adaptability of the Japanese style leanorganization system and the traditional American style mass organizationsystem under changing environments. From an organizational designperspective, key structural aspects of the two organizations are modeled ina problem solving context using computational methods. Organizational-levelperformance in terms of decision making accuracy and severity of errors ismeasured as an indicator of organizational adaptability under conditionswhere the task environment shifts between predictable to unpredictable orvise versa. Our study shows that both organizations have their respectiveadvantages under different task environments and that they adapt toenvironmental shifts in different forms. Specifically, when the timepressure is high the lean organization system's performance isvirtually identical to the mass organization system, even though the leanorganization systemÆs members are more proactive. When the timepressure is low, the mass organization system shows a much fasteradaptability when the environment shifts to a predictable one but it is alsomore vulnerable when the environment shifts to an unpredictable one. Incontrast, the lean organization systemÆs response to the changingenvironment is characterized by its slower adaptability. When theenvironment shifts to an unpredictable one, the lean organization systemshows a gradual improvement till reaching a high level. When the environmentshifts to a predictable one, however, the lean organization system shows agradual decrease of performance. Our study further shows that the leanorganization system, with its strong team decision making emphasis, can bemore successful in avoiding severe errors when compared with the massorganization system, even under a predictable task environment.