Thursday, 9 October 2014

Leadership and management in the participation age



Image by Oscar Berg 

I've provided a short list of articles and blogs that I've been following recently talking about changing working practices; practices that place more responsibility on individuals to make their own choices, like Richard Branson's holiday offer, or those that provide examples of organisations that are operating without managers.

Branson unlimited holiday plan for Virgin blazes trail others should follow link to article

Managers are waste: Five organisations saying goodbye to the boss link to article

Companies Without Managers Do Better By Every Metric link to article

How Medium Is Building a New Kind of Company with No Managers link to article

The end of management?

What's interesting is the number and range of organisations that are working without formal hierarchies - from small entrepreneurial start-ups like Medium to WL Gore employing thousands of people.  Although my sense is that the claims for the end of management are overstated what they point to is other ways of organising work, which are quite different from the status quo, and which are working.     

From the industrial age to the participation age

The birth and development of today's management practices, organised around hierarchies, evolved from the industrial revolution. The emphasis was on efficiency, replication and stability. The metaphor was the organisation as a machine. Today's industrial revolution is the internet. The emphasis is on participation, collaboration and sharing. The metaphor is the organisation as a network with workers as nodes contributing their own interests, ideas and aspirations.

Less management and more leadership

As Warren Bennis once said, 'Managers do things right and leaders do the right things'. In other words, the distinction is about the exercise of judgement rather than applying prescriptions. In the participation age the claim is that organisations won't need managers as people will organise themselves in self-managed teams. But that there will still be a place for leaders; people who can create the conditions in which a group of people can organise their outputs towards a shared sense of purpose and meaning. Leaders in this context are facilitating rather than controlling; accountable and clear about the decisions they have the authority to make but also getting out of the way to allow people to problem solve with each other.

What makes knowledge workers productive?

I've shared Oscar Berg's Venn diagram of 'What makes knowledge workers productive?' because it captures something of the changing focus of workplace practices to support the participation age.

Where next?

The ways in which organisations are changing is very interesting.  I am certainly looking forward to keeping track of how things develop through blogs, Twitter and the like. Where next?  Perhaps the key is continued experimentation: in terms of  organisation designs that facilitate collaborative approaches and help make sense of what's possible for everybody in an organisation; and in approaches to learning that are built around emerging everyday workplace practice and directed by what the learner wants to find out rather than what teachers/facilitators, call them what you will, want to teach.    

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