The Power of Coordinated Action:
Short-term Organizations with Long-term Impact
the culture of OVER THE COURSE OF THE 20TH CENTURY, management revolved around the challenges of building and expanding profit-maximizing enterprises, and we took for granted that these institutions sought permanence. But not every organization sets out to expand its footprint and grow continuously. Many firms have limited time horizons from their inception — such as when entrepreneurs seek exits through the licensing of technology or selling of product rights, or when temporary organizations arise to govern mega-projects, like building an airport or running the Olympics. These short-lived organizations build capacity, assemble relevant capabilities, deploy them effectively, and then shut themselves down. While their impact may be long-lived, the organization itself sets out to fulfill a purpose and then closes its doors.
In recent years, a new breed of temporary organization has emerged to tackle some of the world’s most wicked problems. In some cases, we are seeing established organizations operating in tandem with temporary enterprises that are constructed specifically to bridge gaps, enable action and fulfill missions that are finite in nature.
In this article I will describe how forward-thinking organizations — large and small, specialist and generalist, private and public — are coming together to make headway against some of our most complex social problems.
The complex problems of our time increasingly demand creative, adaptive and flexible governance structures.
The Demand for Coordinated Action
The last quarter century has seen a number of important developments that provoke a whole different way of thinking about the purpose of formal governance structures. As a result, a new type of organization is emerging: one that is purposefully shortlived, but with enduring — sometimes permanent — impact. These organizations are designed not to make a profit, but as highly effective tools for fulfilling specific missions, with the full acknowledgement that they will be dissolved once that mission is achieved.
As we all know, the current global environment is characterized by an almost endless array of wicked problems: climate change, environmental pollution, drug-resistant disease, widespread inequality, an epidemic of mental-health disorders, failing states, the mispricing of credit, and shortages of trained