How can organizations avoid the Iron Law of Oligarchy?
The question was followed by the following explanation:
From Iron law of oligarchy:
Any large organization, Michels pointed out, has to create a bureaucracy in order to maintain its efficiency as it becomes larger - many decisions have to be made daily that cannot be made by large numbers of disorganized people. For the organization to function effectively, centralization has to occur and power will end up in the hands of a few. Those few - the oligarchy - will use all means necessary to preserve and further increase their power.
That is, organizations tend to form an elite whose interest is to keep themselves in power rather than advance the goals of the organization. How can organizations mitigate this tendency?
I don't think it's easy to mitigate the Iron Law of Oligarchy, but it can be done if the organization recognizes the danger and takes steps avoid it. That's difficult because those who had the assertiveness, energy and ability to form the organization can be expected to oppose provisions that challenge their leadership.
An early step is to understand that the qualities required to lead a dynamic, vibrant organization change with time and circumstance. Those who found the organization may not be the best people to make it productive. Traditionally, this problem is addressed by having the membership vote on candidates for leadership positions, a method that has achieved such sanctity its weaknesses are dismissed.
There are at least two reasons the traditional 'voting' approach leads directly to the creation of an oligarchical structure. One is the fact that those who stand for election are the most assertive individuals in the organization and another is that, since such elections are popularity contests, the incumbents have an enormous advantage.
The only way to counter these flaws is to devise an electoral process that sifts through the entire membership to seek out those individuals with the qualities needed to meet contemporary challenges and raise them to leadership positions. In doing so, those who seek to avoid oligarchy must recognize that, within their organization, are many people who are unaware of their leadership talents because they are never placed in a situation that allowed their exercise. Some of them, when they discuss current and prospective organizational issues with their peers, will blossom. They may start out unsure of their ability, but when their reason is consulted and they learn they can persuade others of the value of their ideas, they gain confidence. In doing so, they grow and benefit the entire organization.
[Those interested in the philosophical underpinnings of this approach can check out Edward Clayton's excellent description of the Political Philosophy of Alasdair MacIntyre in The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy.]
To eliminate oligarchs, the leadership selection method must ensure every member can participate in the process to the full extent of each individual's desire and ability. That raises the immediate question of how to give every member of a large group meaningful participation in the electoral process without chaos. One method is to create very small groups of randomly chosen members and build a pyramid-like structure based on their will.
Mitigating the Iron Law of Oligarchy is, first of all, a matter of recognizing it is an inevitable result of the traditional method of selecting leaders. The only way to prevent it is to change the way the leaders are chosen.
Thereafter, like any other large problem, it can be solved by breaking it down. The resulting process must guarantee that those who are not accustomed to the serious discussion of organizational issues are placed in circumstances that allow and encourage them to participate meaningfully. The biggest hurdle will be overcoming a flood of misdirection and obfuscation flowing from those proclaiming the sanctity of the traditional method.