networked unmanagement

What are the fundamental changes necessary to shift the dominant organizational model toward stronger networks and temporary, mutually negotiated hierarchies?

Yesterday I spoke with the founders of a small start-up that has seen good growth and is looking at how best to structure for the future. They realized that most existing management models did not make sense for their case, as they have both for-profit and non-profit divisions, and while small, have operations on two continents. They have been provided with a lot of advice around business models from local government and industry, but they have not seen any models that reflect the reality of the network era: post-job, global, digital, mobile, complex, creative, agile, self-managing, etc.

I said that in my experience, nobody has really figured this out. Frédéric Laloux has found some commonalities for what he calls Teal organizations, and Niels Pflaeging has established some solid principles to organize for complexity. Neither of these approaches is widespread or tested at scale. My advice was that they need to build their own model, based on some general principles, within their specific complex context, which only they can understand.

Jarche’s Principles of Networked Unmanagement*

It is only through innovative and contextual methods, the self-selection of the most appropriate tools and work conditions, and willing cooperation that more creative work can be fostered. The duty of being transparent in our work and sharing our knowledge rests with all workers, especially management.

1. “innovative & contextual methods” = in the network era work and jobs cannot be standardized, which means first getting rid of job descriptions and individual performance appraisals and shifting to simpler ways in order to organize for complexity.

2. “self-selection of tools” – moving away from standardized enterprise tools toward an open platform in which workers, many of which are part-time or contracted, can use their own tools in order to be knowledge artisans.

3. “willing cooperation” = lessening the emphasis on teamwork and collaboration and encouraging wider cooperation.

4. “duty of being transparent” = shifting from ‘need to know’ to ‘need to share’ especially for those with leadership responsibilities, who must understand that in the network era, management is a role, not a career. Transparency is probably the biggest challenge for organizations today, and it can start with salary transparency.

5. “sharing our knowledge” = changing the environment so that sharing one’s knowledge does not put that person in a weaker organizational position. An effective knowledge worker is engaged individual with the freedom to act. For example, rewarding individuals for ideas, such as patent royalty sharing, means that sharing information could lead to another person benefiting from what you have shared. Rewarding the organization (network) is better than rewarding the individual, but only if people feel empowered and can be actively engaged in decision-making. Intrinsic, not extrinsic, motivation is necessary for complex and creative work.

* Principles of Scientific Management (1911)

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