Collaboration, business and democracy

le 5 janvier 2009 par


I am working on a couple of « what’s next » projects about corporate networks and communities, and this post by Jon Husband (The New Management – Bringing Democracy and Markets Inside the Organization), really struck me as very accurate.

One of the key milestones for widely and successfully deploying collaboration in an organization is the process for choosing a new governance charter. Basically, in my experience, after some pilot communities and networks have helped identify why and how a specific organization should deploy a collaborative way (to innovate further; to increase individual productivity; to bring its internal culture to the level of its employer brand; and so on), people start thinking about some key issues like:
– what name should we choose for this initiative,
– what rules should we have to organize our collaboration,
– how should HR processes change to take into account this new dimension ?

Bringing an answer to those questions is one of the key milestones to bring collaboration within the corporate culture. And, more than the answers themselves, it is how the organization choses to bring an answer to those issues (how it learns to think, design and decide collectively) that matters.

Why did Jon Husband post stricke me ? Well, I think we are at a time when the rules and governing principles of corporations are going to be built by the employees. That is, to my mind, somehow a move that « increases the democratic level » of the corporation.

Most governing principles used to come from power or from history: corporations internal organization codes and rules are mostly based on hierarchical decisions or on culture (the way we do things around here).

What I see now is quite different. Collaboration projects, and even more so if E2.0 tools are chosen and deployed wisely, can result in new rules and charters that have been collaboratively built and adopted. This is new and can be very powerful.

This is hapening. But we should not be too idealistic. I do not think this is about how the corporation will become a democracy (at least, not yet). I think it is about how the responsibility for the organization projects, performance and social role is more widely distributed and accepted than before.

By asking to build the rules, the employees are asking for more responsibility, and by launching these collaborative projects the organization is getting ready to share it. I could not say what will be the outcome of this. What I can say is that most corporations structure and processes will have to change deeply to benefit from this trend (see Martin’s last post on Cisco for an example of change).

5 réflexions sur « Collaboration, business and democracy »
  1. Thanks for your comment Miguel. I agree that the essence of what is called Enterprise 2.0 is much more a higher percentage of talented and involved employees, new usages and new governance than mere technology. Technology is key, but as an enabler. And as you say, it was there before, only now employees are ready « to receive and exploit them ».

    My opinion is that generally employee long for increased autonomy and ability to decide, as well as for increased interest of their jobs. The corporate answer (to be build in this new governance) should probably be increased level of responsibility.

  2. Luis, thanks for noticing my post, and Miguel, thanks for the rieinforcing encouragement.

    Specific to organisational democracy (they aren’t democracies and won’t be any time soon), it seems clear that they will do well to adopt some of the core aspects of democratic principles .. the pressure to do so has been building for quite a few years, and today’s flows of information and the tools available with which to work with those flows in an increasingly interconnected environment will add to that pressure.

    If it may be of interest to you, here is an interview with WorldBlu’s Traci Fenton. Worldblu carries out an annual survey of the world’s most democratic organizations.

  3. Thanks Jon for the link. Helps to better understand Wirearchy, that I had read about a couple of times. I also tend to push the notion that hierarchy as an organizing principle is limited and that the current context gives organizations the opportunity to increase the number of organizing principles they use. With my current clients, we are just discovering how to bring the « collaborative » principle up to a same level with hierarchy.

    I am not yet clear if hierarchy will evolve or if it will be complemented by additional organizing principles.

    The trend towards a « more democratic organization », though, is a deep one to my mind.

  4. Martin’s comment based on a passage from Citadelle is very interesting, and speaks directly to the meta-notion that « knowledge is power » (vis ses mots sur le contre-pouvoir) .. which is what is in play these days.

    Hierarchical leaders in this modern environment will do well to diminish their reliance on structural / positional power and begin to grow their softer but higher-quality power through the use of listening, dialogue and decision-making that is seen to be intelligent and based on democratic (more or less) input.

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