When you meet top managers for a collaborative project, the two fears that come up most often on the table is the loss of control and the idea that « collaboration = anarchy or self management. » I’ll gloss over the loss of control (if there is no trust in its employees it can’t work and managers have to understand that employees have other means to put you in the mess if they wish).
But this idea of self management, I can hear it more and more often from people more familiar with the concept of management / enterprise 2.0. So finally Enterprise 2.0 = self management ?
I am going to speak here only of governance. If we speak about self-management, in its classic definition (or grassroot democracy), it is the fact that, for a group or a considered structure, the decisions are taken by this group or all the persons of the structure. In fact, this idea is the elimination of any distinction between rulers and ruled and ultimately the ability to organize themselves without a leader. It already exists, for example in Wales where a mine works on this model.
I think that you should not confuse governance and processes (even if they are related). From the moment you have a CEO, a steering committee and a board of executives, in the majority of cases (all cases?), the places of decisions are clearly defined (even if afterward the delegation can be important, like in HCL Technologies Ltd with the CEO Vineet Nayard). Of course my answer could be simple, illustrated by the example of Cisco. Cisco is an example of Enterprise 2.0 at a very large scale, but I do not think anyone is questioning the leadership role of its CEO John Chambers. Even if the Magazine Fastforward titled few years ago: How Cisco’s CEO John Chambers Is Turning the Tech Giant Socialist. This shows that there are still points to be clarified.
Cisco has implemented a number of processes to develop collaborative work within it. It considers that the top management must be exemplary in its functionning, has to be a sponsor of these collaborative practices, and especially has to give an overview of the company for years to come. So can we move this hierarchical layer ? The question settles especially for the vision and strategy. The whole company can or want to build the strategy of a group ? I’m not sure that a company can provide this level. Often make decisions fast and difficult at the present time can hardly be applied to a large scale in a reactive way. Clearly it takes executives, after they are sanctioned or not by the shareholders or employees it is another question. On the other hand, the business strategy is influenced by its employees, and Cisco shows that in few years ago when it has developed 26 priority projects from these communities against one or two previous years, which were the result of a mode operation more hierarchical (command and control). With the implementation of communities, is much more important and the part of autonomy as well.
This translates into a greater agility (reducing time decisions in line with the operational and / or ground related to feedbacks), a decompartmentalisation and transparency related to greater traffic flow information, giving the impression of a greater freedom of decision or at least involvement. We can talk about integrative organization. The big difference is the listening of the managers and the empowerment of the employees. Of course, for this thickness of middle management is led to decrease in proportion and to evolve and its management methods (details in two blog posts on these issues here and here). Thus, there is a reduction of the pyramid in favor of a more horizontal organization (based on one hand on the notions of identity of the actors and on the other hand of multi-communities), but not a real self-management in the sense where the employees don’t decide on everything.
On the contrary, it is illusory, as calls it back John Chambers, to think that he manages alone 66 000 employees (even with the help of the board). That is why it is necessary to give the maximum of autonomy (which also means accountability) to the employees by reducing the bureaucratic and stiff side of the organization related to the pyramidal model of traditionnal organizations (delegative as calls them Henry Mintzberg). Around this topic, you will find a presentation of those ideas here. Actually, way of organization and management are evolving to involve more the employees and allow better responsiveness.
The other question is the responsibility of the CEO. Is he there only to ensure the performance of the company and increase the income of the shareholders, or is he also in charge of the welfare of its employees ? Those two goals are not contradictory, on the contrary (engagement and employee value proposition). Just as it takes incentives (which passes through the measurement system and therefore financial) to work collaboratively, the idea of a variable remuneration of managers related to welfare indicators is probably a solution.
Finally, if the collaboration does not necessarily lead to self management, will it not change the balance of power (empowerment) and introduce more social issues into your company ?