Sunday, February 23, 2014

Should Organisations be Run like a Community?

Henry Mintzberg wrote in a 2009 HBR article that “community means caring about our work, our colleagues, and our place in the world, geographic and otherwise, and in turn being inspired by this caring. Tellingly, some of the companies that are admired most - Toyota, Semco (Brazil), Mondragon (a Basque federation of cooperatives), Pixar, and so on - typically have this strong sense of community.”
Where, today, we often find that “young”, successful companies usually have this sense of community. They are growing, energized, committed to their people, almost a family. But sustaining it with the onset of maturity can be another matter. Things slow down, politics builds up, the world is no longer their oyster. Community is sometimes easier to preserve in the social sector, with NGOs, not-for-profits, and cooperatives. The mission may be more engaging, and the people more engaged.
Mintzberg went on to highlight that “communityship” is not a word in the English language. But it should be - to stand between individual leadership on one side and collective citizenship on the other. In fact, he believed that we should never use the word “leadership” without also discussing communityship.
Imho too many leaders today talk about ‘themselves’ and focus on the ‘I’ rather than the collective team or organisation. They have a great opportunity to build a great ‘community’ and a great place to work, but are too focused on their own successes – often negating the very foundation on which effective leadership is built.
Mintzberg goes on to mention that “communityship requires a more modest form of leadership that might be called engaged and distributed management. A community leader is personally engaged in order to engage others, so that anyone and everyone can exercise initiative. If you doubt this can happen, take a look at how Wikipedia, Linux, and other open-source operations work. So maybe it’s time to wean ourselves from the heroic leader and recognize that usually we need just enough leadership - leadership that intervenes when appropriate while encouraging people in the organization to get on with things.”
Building a community requires the leader to accept the principles of leadership at the micro level and focus on the organisations most vital resource – its human resource. Where leaders put their people before themselves and engage in professional conversations and behaviours that motivate them to optimise their performance, ensuring a win-win for the employee and the organisation.
Mintberg mentions that “the way to start rebuilding community is to stop the practices that undermine it, such as treating human beings as human resources; firing them in great numbers when the company has not met performance targets (but remains profitable); tolerating obscene compensation packages for CEOs (especially ones that offer them “retention” and other bonuses for doing what they receive a salary to do); exhibiting a general disrespect for anything in the company’s past, including its culture; and in general overemphasizing leadership. In other words, the organization has to shed much of its individualist behavior and many of its short-term measures in favor of practices that promote trust, engagement, and spontaneous collaboration aimed at sustainability.”
The concept, though sound, is not that easy to implement on the ground. It needs a leader who is confident in their ability and their own ‘self’. It takes a leader who has a proven track record and someone who isn’t seeking ‘glory’ or ‘recognition’ for their own past failings or perceptions of failure. Unfortunately too many leaders today are still seeking to prove things to themselves and don’t have the self-confidence to focus most of their attention on their people.
In conclusion Mintzberg highlights how “a robust community requires a form of leadership quite different from the models that have it driving transformation from the top. Community leaders see themselves as being in the center, reaching out rather than down. They facilitate change, recognizing that much of it must be driven by others. At General Electric, Jeff Immelt, who wants the company to become as much renowned for innovation and organic growth as it has been for operational excellence, encourages the teams running GE’s businesses to figure out for themselves what is needed for transformation.”
The good news is that as with many business principles – if you believe in it enough, then ‘you’ can make it happen and the outcomes of community based leadership are benefits that span the whole organisation and beyond, to include stakeholders too.
Mintzberg, H. (2009). Rebuilding Companies as Communities. Harvard Business Review[On-line:]

No comments:

Post a Comment