Monday, January 5, 2009

Collaboration, business and democracy

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).

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