The future of work is to freelance within an organisation - choose your task, assemble to work, then dissolve
In those days, the role of the individual was to follow instructions. That’s why you often had big binders full of instructions at large companies…
…it’s about providing individuals with the power to connect, so that they can address things rapidly and do local problem solving.
This new landscape challenges the basic core assumptions of management. Corporations that grew up in 20th century were organizations where the blueprint was to define in advance how the individual was to fit in. It was the job of the individual to fit into the organization, whereas today it’s about how organizations and companies need to adapt to the individual, and how they can develop their talents more rapidly. This is deeply subversive to traditional assumptions about management.
…one of the keys to motivating individuals is to help them connect to their passion for their profession. Monitoring passion level gives you the ability to provide rapid performance improvement. Passionate people are deeply motivated to improve themselves and drive themselves to the next level of performance.
Yep employees want meaning and purpose, they want to connect and have impact, they want to belong and feel ownership, they want autonomy to make decisions (self-manage, create tasks)…a move from extraction to engagement.
A major obstacle in traditional organisations is the competitive element of what gets measured determines what gets done, and then take this up a level to the silo version of the problem in departments not being able to pass on local costs to other units ("she’s on my payroll, but you want her on loan for free, how do I justify that cost for no output on my end"). Let’s not even talk about non-commissioned work.
And then there’s the informal network of workers helping each other out ie. not a joint task, but rather providing a service for your co-worker as you know one day you’ll need to call on them. Bertrand Duperrin differentiates the difference between service and collaboration:
Because service is a person-to-person commitment rather than a goal-to-people one, it engages employees more, make the whole organization more responsive and make them less reluctant about caring about issues that are not directly theirs.
Collaboration is something one do with someone else to achieve something. Service is quite different.
Service is not something one do with another but something one do for another. The final purpose is, of course, to achieve something, but the immediate purpose is to help someone. And that changes everything.
Yes how well you source your network to produce more quality work, and the amount of help you offer enterprise-wide has always been there, but now it can become visible.
The focus of this post is the passion, empowerment and autonomy that John Hagel talks about, ultimately leading to employees having more opportunity to choose what they want to work on; for wanting and liking = engagement, does it not.
But this post is not only about employee satisfaction, it has a coupled effect that improves organisational effectiveness and agility ie. tasks or problems arise and the talent network swarms around it with little central coordination to attack the task/problem, and then disbands and moves onto the next thing.
I really like this idea of paying attention to the employee experience at work, which may cascade into improved organisational performance and innovation. It kind of reminds me of government paying attention to symptoms of poor education and behaviour, when they could instead focus on family and parenting; jusk ask Rob Paterson.
Actually Andy McAfee talks about this as the icing or the cake metaphor (4min35sec)…personally for me the cake is your people, and the icing is the organisational performance.
A cinematographer or an actor looks for their own work, they choose something that takes their interest (or sometimes that may not even be interested, but they just need some work to generate some income). When that project finishes they (with the help of an agent) look for another project. In the meantime they have to supplement their downtime of their own accord ie. no-one pays them in-between jobs. They may also miss the interactivity with co-workers, which may me supplemented to an extent by the rise of co-working; here’s more from an article in the Globe:
But for a solo freelancer, it can be even more challenging to build your career when you don’t have an organization behind you. You’re responsible for your own networking and creating your own opportunities.
Freelance videographer Rosa Park misses having people to bounce ideas around with, so relies heavily on her social media for interaction.
What’s good about the freelance model from the other side of the bench is that a production company will choose from the best or most appropriate actor and cinematographer. In an organisation this is like saying we have looked up our social network (expert locator), and exhausted every possible expert within our organisation, and made our choice. You can’t get better than the ability to know who your experts are, and not feel like you have forgone choosing a better person for the job, because you didn’t know of them.
The difference between freelancers and permanent staff is that organisations have to supplement employees who are in-between projects.
In a project-based organisation like an engineering company, you will belong to a functional business unit; you have your BU boss, and when you work on projects you have your project boss. Whilst on a project the client pays your wage (they may not do this directly); this is called chargeable time. When you are in-between projects, the business unit pays your wage; this is called overheads. From the organisations POV, they want to win as many projects as possible so you can be on chargeable time as much as possible ie. it’s in the business’s interest to not have you sitting idle charging to overheads; that’s no way for an organisation to make profits.
Find work you like within an organisation
How do employees hear about new projects?
There may be an ERP system the makes this available, but most of the time it’s through your boss, or who you know. So the more you network, the more you are aware of what’s out there that you may interested in; the more you network, the more relationships you build…generating a relationship with important people (eg. those that recruit), or those who seem to know everything is to your advantage. In the end "it’s who you know".
But maybe we can all have an even opportunity of knowing the right people. Building the right relationships to get you the work you like is one thing that doesn’t come for free, but what can come for free is the first step of having the opportunity to be able to connect with the right people, and be aware of what people are talking about.
Online social networks are like expert locators, but more than that because they are beyond a directory listing, they are also a place where people talk. Access to a social network enables you to see beyond the physical limits of your hierarchy, your office, and who your boss knows. It enables the employer to see an exhaustive list of all the experts; not just by a subject descriptor, but by looking at their past project history on their profile page, questions they’ve answered on forums, and what they may blog about. Yes a blog is an employees opportunity to walk the walk, to talk about your experiences and what your good at, it shows your character. If the right people see your content, it can land you tasks of interest. On the other side it allows employees to connect with all sorts of people and build relationships. The idea here is that you now have a watercooler where you can hear about things, you have connections to people that will consider you for tasks they know you will like, or are good at, or another contact may know about a task and refer you.
So yes you can act somewhat like a freelancer in an organisation, and with online social networks there’s more opportunity of finding work that you like…this is a good feeling.
This really isn’t radical is it?
Right now organisations don’t know who all their people are and what they are good at. So we have experts not being matched to the right task. On the other side we have experts not knowing there are tasks out there that match their interests. So at the moment organisations are wearing a blindfold, and can only see through a little bit. Online social networks lift the blindfold, and project managers and employees can find each other…it’s a win win for engagement and happiness in the workforce.
I’ve blogged about this before, and called it a role-based organisation. A modular organisation where employees gravitate to tasks that suit their expertise and interests. And best of all when in-between jobs, they are still getting paid.
A better known term for this is Subject Matter Networks. Below are a few video’s illustrating what I’m talking about ie. examples of cutting across silos (in the new flat layered enterprise) by looking up a profiles directory and discovering an employees talent (or hidden talent)…the employee now works on a task that best fits their talent and passion, and of course the business has got the best available person on the task.
Andrew McAfee also talks about this (2min20sec), where he sums it up in Nelson Mandela’s words:
"To let your spark of genius manifest itself"
Arise to enable flexible formation of teams to meet emerging needs, while highly utilizing subject-matter expertise
SME’s are recruited informally via professional relationships & communities
SME’s are identified through organizational connections
If you take the example of an engineering organisation again, part of their staff are freelancers (they are not permanent employees). A person can choose to be a contracter (eg. engineer, document controller, project manager) ie. like an actor or cinematographer they don’t permanently work for one company, they just jump from job to job, hoping there’s not much downtime in-between. From a contractors POV you choose to take this risk.
John Hagel doesn’t think this means the whole economy is going to turn into a market of freelancers
AL: What will this lead us to, eventually?
JH: It’s going to lead to a fundamental shift in how companies are managed. I am a bit of a contrarian regarding the popular view about the impact of the Internet, which is that large companies will go away and we will all become individual contractors and free agents. I think large institutions in general still have a significant role to play, but it will revolve much more around the notion of helping people to accelerate their talent development.
So then I ask if your company is flexible enough can you act as a pseudo-freelancer within your organisation and get satisfaction from finding work you like, and that work also finding you. That is, can you work without the worry of needing to find the next job on your own and without the worry of needing to somehow supplement your self when there is down time in-between jobs. You certainly can. Engineering companies don’t just run on contractors, they have permanent staff that belong in business units and work on projects. As mentioned at the start of this post; in-between projects the company pays them till the next project comes along. In this interim time they gather in their BU and reflect, fix processes, innovate, but most of all the leads are doing business development and looking for new clients.
Your other choice is a true freelancer where the boundary of one organisation is not your limit, you have a much bigger playing field to find a project (I suppose much more opportunity to find something you like). But the downside is when in-between jobs you have to survive on your own; this is the choice with lower security.
The balance of permanent staff and contractors
From the organisations POV they would want a mixture of permanent staff and contractors. Having permanent staff means they carry the culture and goodwill that you promote to clients, and they also carry the organisational knowledge ie. they have been groomed, the company has invested in growing their talent. It’s good to have smart people permanently by your side. It’s also practical as when there’s a new project it’s much easier to ramp up and dip into your in-house talent pool. But it’s not viable for all your staff to be permanent as you may not be able to afford to pay them in downtimes, so access to contractors makes for a balanced approach.
Greg Satell explains this common sense:
…firms exist to minimize transaction costs. Anybody who has run a technology company in an up market knows exactly what he’s talking about. It’s often much better to pay people a salary, even if they are idle some of the time, than to try to find freelancers whenever you need something done.
Alan Murray explains how the organisation is not good as the market in allocating resources for a given activity, and alludes to traditional command structures as the obstacle:
The corporation might not be as good at allocating labor and capital as the marketplace; it made up for those weaknesses by reducing transaction costs…It was simply too complicated and too costly to search for and find the right worker at the right moment for any given task, or to search for supplies, or to renegotiate prices, police performance and protect trade secrets in an open marketplace.
Resource allocation will be one of the biggest challenges. The beauty of markets is that, over time, they tend to ensure that both people and money end up employed in the highest-value enterprises. In corporations, decisions about allocating resources are made by people with a vested interest in the status quo. “The single biggest reason companies fail,” says Mr. Hamel, “is that they overinvest in what is, as opposed to what might be.”
The new model will have to instill in workers the kind of drive and creativity and innovative spirit more commonly found among entrepreneurs. It will have to push power and decision-making down the organization as much as possible, rather than leave it concentrated at the top. Traditional bureaucratic structures will have to be replaced with something more like ad-hoc teams of peers, who come together to tackle individual projects, and then disband
This really is a turning point; the organisation as being more effective than the market due to minimising transaction costs; and now with a more networked organisation it too can be as agile as the market in regards to resource allocation;where the best people are on the right job (whether they are known by leads, or gravitate to a job themselves), and the tasks of value can surface from the bottom-up (frontline) as well
Rex Lee calls this "You as a Service" (YaaS):
1. Scale…As big as a company is, it can’t possibly hire everyone. What if it needed one idea from one person and that was it. Would you hire them? Would you even consult with them? Even if a company could hire everyone, what kind of bureaucracy would be required? By tapping into things like Innocentive, individuals become their own services
2. Efficiency: For the same reason Ronald Coase won a Nobel prize in economics in explaining why firms exist. The need to vertically or horizontally integrate was spurn because of cost inefficiencies. It was simply more efficient to buy out the partners or hire them then it would be to create contracts with everyone you worked this. This is now changing. To the extreme there are now companies with virtually no employees such as CrowdSpirit.
You can now be a service. A thought source. A problem solver. A creative entrepreneur. And the globe is your marketplace. What a fascinating world it is when we can all hang up our own "Open for business" signs.
What about shared services employees?
So far I have talked about functional BU employees in a project-based organisation. But what about shared services employees within these organisations.
I don’t think this should be any different; the difference is that they are not groups that form to serve client projects directly, instead they are groups that support project workers; in doing this, part of their experience is working on internal projects of their own kind. For example someone in the HR unit of a global organisation may be one of 100 people. If there’s a new initiative about "onboarding", the online social network will help managers and workers find each other; meaning we have the best possible person leading the onboarding initiative, and that person is happy to a have a task that matches their interests.
Most of the time in a shared service like IT or HR, we don’t jump from one internal project to the next. Rather we have our everyday tasks, and also specialise on an internal project task. Where this can start to weaken is when a person is on too many tasks, leaving them no-time to do their everyday tasks.
This can cause fatigue.
Let me go a step further; what about if HR have an internal task that requires someone from IT to do substantial work on the task. If the task itself doesn’t have a charge code then the IT manager is paying the IT person to do that task rather than the HR Manager. This is what organisations are all about, we have functions and come together to achieve things. But what if that IT worker is over extended ie. their manager lends them to work on too many cross-functional tasks. Both their everyday IT tasks will suffer, as well as those cross-functional internal tasks, as they just can’t spread their time.
I find this is the problem with swarms being an informal practice; when the swarm is not funded or resourced properly it suffers. The IT worker may let the task down, and the IT worker also is not keeping up with their usual daily tasks.
So if we are going to swarm we need to officialise this concept.
Why, because time and resources get abused, and cracks can start to appear when the internal task does not have a charge code.
Bertrand Duperrin puts it this way:
…businesses don’t know how not to pass a local cost along to the whole organization since everyone has to justify the way the allowed funds are used…businesses don’t understand free across its departments.
Luis Suarez covers this topic in a video (22mins) where he says he often works on tasks on other teams but does not get financially compensated, and alludes to HR needing to pay attention to keep up with the way we work now. He talks about the potential intangible benefits ie. if in the future he is looking for some work he will have goodwill with those he has helped out in the past (he will have demonstrated his competence and character) and they more often than not would help him out. But it may even be that your job security is ok, all you need is some expertise outside the skills of your team…ah yes reciprocity.
Luis is asked a question (29mins) about what your boss thinks about you juggling extra work, and what if it exhausts you. Luis says it’s ok as long as it doesn’t get in the way of his main job. In the end the person who issues his pay slip is the tasks that take priority. I think this could be more progressive. Yes the first step is your boss mainly caring that you perform and deliver, rather than trying to squeeze out every moment of your presence. If it makes you feel engaged, fulfilled, and getting your brand out there to work on other tasks, etc…then go for it. This is the first hurdle that I now hear many workplaces are jumping over cleanly.
Like I mentioned above; where the progression needs to be or thought about is that we get fatigued with all these tasks (I’m on that committee, I’m in this online community, I’m helping out her on her task, I’m answering a question over here, I’m in a task force initiative over here, etc….) Sometimes it’s not so easy to relax your effort on a task outside your main job as your involvement may have committed you somewhat. But since your boss pays your pay slip you have no choice and as a result these other tasks suffer. Quick help for others like answering questions or showing them how to pretty up their powerpoint is not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about those other tasks you may do on other teams that may soak up a portion of your time over an extended period.
What’s the solution? Part of it is what Bertrand says about passing on local costs. But even if that other team are willing to pay for your temporary help, is the organisation agile enough to do this sort of on-the-fly resourcing. I think we need to see organisation’s have more capability to deal with this…more job rotation, multi-skilled workers…
What I’m getting at is an evolution where we lower the constraints so the future of work-where we do that swarming type thing-can flourish.
Do we get paid for one-off help
Something I briefly mentioned is swarming around a problem; but what if this coming together is not really a task yet, or may not ever be a task, it’s just a problem that will be solved with the right answer (the questioner may then go on and implement, or indeed they may need the help of the answerer). We have talked about the notion that a person gravitates to stuff they have expertise in, and is then able to work on that task (given costing is worked out, and given they have time away from their every day tasks-or perhaps other resources can fill the gap in the everyday tasks till they get back). It’s kind of a shuffle isn’t it.
What if the answerer has given an answer and the questioner does not require them to do anything further, then what has happened here is the answerer has helped them for free. Why do this if you are not getting paid for it?
The interaction may have had the potential to lead to work on a paid task. If not, then you have helped someone out who appreciates your touch, and will reciprocate where possible in the future. The other thing you have done is you were watched by lots of people when you answered the question…the metaphor of an applause is comments and ratings, or perhaps not much was said, but none-the-less you will be remembered by all these listeners…by participating you are making yourself known and promoting what you are good at, and this is going to help get you future work. Knowledge sharing is power. I think this intrinsically motivating approach is enough, I don’t think we need to turn this concept into a knowledge market. Again this relates to what Luis was talking about above in relation to what I call goodwill.
I expand on this point in my post, Measuring employees on the quality of their work and gifting based on how well they utilise their online network.
Ad-hoc teams of peers, atomic-model, role-based, freelance, talent networks, temporary groups, ronin, crews, flocking, social teams, swarms, value networks, communities of experts, circles of influence, innovation labs, sand dune teams, dynamic project teams
We have talked about freelance work, and the ability for permanent staff in project-based companies to act as if they were freelancers within their own company. The difference being the latter is supplemented by the company in-between jobs. Another point depending on the company is the latter may not be choosing their own jobs, they might be chosen for them; unless they are the type or organisation that creates the conditions for this to be enabled by allowing employees to connect enterprise-wide in an online social network.
The is how this new organisational model works. Rather than people being stuck and immovable in a functional based model, the organisation has another layer or capability to operate as a task-based model. That is people find work they like, or the best people in the company swarm around a problem, assemble to solve the problem, then buzz away to the next task, initiative or problem.
This type of operating is quick team-based, but is different to how we think of teams. These type of swarm teams are not long-term, people may not know each other, and they only exist to mend a problem ie. they don’t exist just because…they are not an existing team of experts.
Swarming is not the only name they go by, the following excerpts describe the many names for this type of operational model.
Irving Wladawsky-Berger related to a comment Tom Foremski made on one of his earlier posts referring to this as the "atomic" model (like my film industry example above, Tom too alludes to the "Hollywood model"). This is not in relation to acting like a freelancer as a permanent employee, but instead he is referring to the true notion of a freelancer, as he mentions, "why having them sitting around on salaries in-between jobs":
“In some ways, I see your post-retirement life as being somewhat futuristic, in that it will be the way many people will be working in the future. It’s what I call an "atomic" model - collaborating with others on specific tasks/projects and then dissolving those collaborations as you work with others on different projects. In some ways, this is the way Hollywood has been working for decades. And it’s also one that I increasingly see in Silicon Valley.”
“It’s a model that increases individual productivity and also organizational productivity because you bring in consultants/experts for specific tasks. Why have them sitting around on salaries in-between projects?”
“You’ve retired from the old style of working and you are now pioneering the new style of working "
Irving describes his new work model (via Luis Suarez’s Intrapreneurship post)
I have transitioned from being an executive working full time at IBM to my present position as a self-employed professional associated with a variety of institutions. Roughly speaking, two thirds of my work is spent consulting on innovation and technical strategy, primarily with IBM and Citigroup, but now and then with other companies as well. A quarter of my time is spent with universities, primarily MIT, Imperial College and SUNY’s Levin Institute. The remaining time is spent in various other activities, including boards and government panels.
People often ask me what I have been doing since I retired from IBM, and when I tell them, they typically say that it sounds like I am busier now than when I had a full time position. I generally answer that while I am indeed quite busy, being a self-employed professional is markedly different from working full time at a large company like IBM, both in obvious and subtle ways.
My time is now my own. I have a lot more flexibility and personal choice in what I do and how I spend my days. The boundaries between work and personal life, already very porous when working at IBM, are practically non-existent.
But, as a self-employed individual, I am also on my own. While the various institutions I work with provide me some degree of support, their infrastructure and processes are geared to support their full time employees, not part-time professionals and contractors. I thus have had to come up with my own infrastructure and processes suitable for my present distributed work style.
From here on we are talking about the swarming within organisations that I mentioned earlier (ie. pseudo-freelancing within a company, or basically choosing work you like)
In a post blog post I quoted Margaret Schweer talking about this shift to a role-based organisation, where talent is shared:
Many of us are transitioning away from job to roles based on work for some portion of our organization. This is an important paradigm shift for leaders – ownership for talent is shared. Talent needs to be flexibly deployed against the areas of highest value for the organization.
The ability to structure work and talent in a flexible fashion increases the organization’s ability to rapidly and effectively respond to needs in times of crisis or opportunity.
The organisation still has the hierarchy network formation, but it also has a talent network formation. Hierarchies may be a good model to win clients, define, and manage the work, and the talent network are a good model to form the team and actually do the work.
This approach is like an ecosystem where both managers and employees have access to information and people. BTW - I really don’t like the idea of looking at this from a big brother perspective of employees being slotted into boxes.
Stowe Boyd talks about how being a freelancer enables him to pick and choose his work, to do work that has meaning (the purpose behind the time and effort we put into our work) and then he ponders if this can happen within organisations (which is the focus of this post):
Speaking personally, I am a long-time freelancer, and I work with a wide variety of clients. But I am motivated to find meaning for my actions through work (as well as extra-work activities), and I select projects based on how they line up with my abiding motivations.
So this begs the question: Can individuals — including people working in companies — come together on ad hoc projects, projects of limited duration, and still be aligned with their meaning for work?
He then points to thoughts by Neil Perkin on ad-hoc talent networks:
"Part of the reason that this is so interesting is that it is symptomatic of a broader trend – the rise of talent networks. In the case of Co:, the founders describe the agency as a ‘brand studio’, likening it to a movie studio that pulls in talent to work on specific projects, facilitates a good result, and provides the environment and the infrastructure for effective collaboration. One of the founders, quoted in the New York Times, talked about how “teams are formed around individual client needs, and when those needs are satisfied, the team is dispersed”.
Relentless digitisation and the recession have combined to create an environment in which the value of much of what we have known is depreciating, and which increasingly requires a culture and a pace of innovation that is consistent with start-ups. Organisational value is shifting from protecting knowledge assets, to encouraging knowledge flow. In ‘We Think’, Charles Leadbetter said: “In the past you were what you owned. Now you are what you share”. New models are springing up that follow a philosophy where access trumps ownership. Assets are increasingly about relationships."
Stowe moves on to talk about swift trust and temporary groups ie. groups that assemble for a task, but don’t have a history of trust or formal coordination, yet they are successful. For me this is because each person is happy within themselves as they are all doing what they like…basically happiness is contagious and can make happy groups. Also it’s not about the group it’s about the task. ie. we usually have pre-existing groups that do tasks, and now this is turning this upside down by saying we have a group that has formed around a task, and will then dissolve.
He points out that the temporary groups approach (and the Ronin, as he calls the freelancers) is kind of the opposite of past hierarchical approaches ie. less chance of power play, and low cost experimentation and agility (Clay Shirky often talks about traditional structures going for the less risky, rather than potentially best approach)
Increased Agility — A company that can react and quickly act to changing conditions has to possess a different sort of balance…a company can bring together short-term teams of specialists to attack new opportunities, and if they fail, they can do so quickly, at low cost, and simply disband the team.
Swift Trust — Companies can avoid the high and seemingly inescapable costs of internal politics with permanent employees struggling for power and autonomy as soon as a hierarchy is created.
…impermanent teams can come together and accomplish projects with the least amount of politics, because a/ the participants are all aware that the project is of limited duration, b/ the team members are able to assume functional roles based on their previous experience with a minimum — or zero — training, c/ the project is based on distributed, complex, non-trivial tasks that require deep expertise, and ongoing coordination or work activities, and d/ people can suspend their need to build deep trust because it is a project comprised of other ronin (freelancers).
…this non-convergence, this lack of long-term collective agreement, is not a detriment: it is in fact the reason that the friction in short-term projects is so low. Because the participants are only cooperating as short-term ‘connectives’ — when considered in any timeframe larger than the duration of the project — they avoid the social inertia of forming long-term ‘collectives’…
Dave Snowden alludes to a common concept of swift trust in his concept of "crews"
A crew works because its members take up roles for which they are trained, and where their expectations of the other roles in the crew is also trained and to a large extent ritualised. This means that people can assemble into a crew without the common forming, norming, storming & performing cycle.
Michael Lissack calls it "flocking":
Flocking is the ability of the organization to recognize good opportunities and to flock resources around those opportunities — much as birds in an unselfconscious and reflexive way will rotate the leadership of their flying wing as one bird gets tired and another represents the “next hope.” Having the ability to flock is having the ability to take advantage of opportunity. This is much easier said than done.
Boris Pluskowski calls it Social Teams:
…we “exist” as a community, but we “achieve” as a team
“Social Teams”…members may never have met each other, but nevertheless choose to work with each other to achieve a mutually desirable goal or function.
Social Teams are not top-down, nor bottom-up; they can be purposely set-up, or self-formed by team members; they can exist in purely social settings or as corporate sponsored groups.
They are a collection of individuals who have a common understanding of the “game they’re playing” (ie the team’s purpose); know in which goal they’re trying to score in (ie have a shared understanding of what ‘a win’ looks like); and are collaborating together to achieve that aim.
They incorporate the structure of a traditional team, with the social contract of a community.
Deb Lavoy posts about assembling for a task and then dissolving; she calls it a move from teams to swarms:
…organizations are transforming ever rapidly from institutions where people support processes and technologies, to one where processes and technologies support people. People are, authentically now, the actual value of and infrastructure of the organization. We solve problems by bringing the right people to them at the right time. The cross-functional team is now such a fixture in our workplace that we forget that 10 years ago it was a big deal. The idea that a team is not defined by a specific organizational structure is finally so accepted a truth that it hardly stands mentioning now. We know that differing perspectives, give and take, mutual analysis and common understanding leads to better, faster learning — which means better, faster outcomes.
But as our concept of team moves from a predefined structure to a ” swarm,” the way we interact personally with each other, within teams, among teams and the role of management is changing in fundamental ways. New values and new skills are needed to flourish in this fluid environment.
Verna Allee calls these formations value networks:
The true shape and nature of collaboration is not the social network – it is the value network. Value networks are purposeful groups of people who come together in designated roles to take action or produce an outcome. Only through the power of value networks can we address our complex issues – together – and create a more hopeful future.
Padmasree Warrior calls them ad-hoc communities of experts:
At Cisco, we believe that the rigidly structured silos that were traditionally put in place in most enterprises will give way to more fluid, ad-hoc communities of experts. Increasingly, companies will rely on Collaboration Networks that bring together “clusters of experts” to get critical projects completed. These groups will form dynamically to achieve a shared outcome. This self-organizing cycle repeats itself on an ongoing basis, as the need arises. It’s both efficient and effective, in part because experts are drawn to projects and are thus motivated — rather than being “assigned” in a top-down fashion
Dynamic project team. A group of people where some members stay the same, but most members come and go during the life of the project, working closely together toward a common deliverable that is a job related focus for its members.
Slide 4 from Luis "Collaboration is changing from stable teams to groups where membership is dynamic - Mortensen & Hinds"
Slide 8 from Luis "A Social Business is…Creative - allows the right mix of talent and information to come together to deliver new insight"
Keith Sawyer calls then innovation labs and talks of J. Richard Hackman who calls them sand dune teams:
I tell how W. L. Gore developed the Elixir brand of guitar strings, with a team that formed spontaneously and unofficially. In Chapters 8 and 9, I describe many companies that create temporary, cross-disciplinary teams to foster innovation (I call them “innovation labs”). Now, I’ve just learned that the leading guru of teams research, J. Richard Hackman, believes that these improvisational, emergent, and fluid teams are the wave of the future.* He calls them “sand dune teams” to indicate that they are impermanent. His key points echo my 2007 book:
These teams are best for “fast-changing contexts in which surprise is the rule”. They often emerge in emergencies (There’s a lot of research showing the role of improvisation in emergency and disaster response; in Group Genius, I begin Chapter 2 by telling a story about the 1980 Naples earthquake). They do best when they operate in organizational units of 30 people or less, so that “unitwide norms and routines” can be shared
I like how Larry Hawes speaks about these swarms, as he refers to the concept of tasks being realised not only in a top-down way, but also from the frontline. For example a bunch of workers who are on the frontline communicate to managers a gap or a pain point, and are given time and resources to assemble to fix that gap…the manager being an enabler.
I believe we are nearing the time when entire organizations will make that same shift of perspective. Hierarchical command and control structures already have (mostly) given way to matrixed organizations. The next step in organizational evolution will be the formation of networks of individuals who work together to solve a specific business challenge, and then disband. The organization will support their endeavors by providing the assets and services listed above. Organizations will endure only as long as they can continue to form networks of knowledge workers and supply the assets and services those workers need.
Keith Sawyer gives an example of bottom-up created tasks by way of ICU Medical, Inc:
These self-forming and self-managing teams came up with better ideas than any one manager could have. To take one example, one of the plant workers thought that the forklifted delivery of parts from the warehouse to a molding site was overly inefficient. He got some colleagues interested, and they formed a team to re-examine the manufacturing process for the Clave, a top-selling product. Six months later, they introduced a new process that is saving the company a half-million dollars each year. In the new company culture, teams often are allowed to implement their ideas even if top executives are opposed. Dr. Lopez, as the CEO, has always retained the right to veto a decision, but years later, he still hasn’t done so.
The era of employee empowerment is on us and businesses need to harness the skills of their workforce to improve productivity and meet customer needs. This is created by giving front line employees the responsibility to take action that will benefit the customer without layers of bureaucratic approval.
Vineet…is gaining recognition for transforming the business through a radical ‘Employees First, Customers Second’ philosophy. He talks about the value zone being where customer value is created. He says:In traditional companies, the value zone is is often buried deep inside the hierarchy and the people who create value work there.The value zone in the first wave was on the shop floor.
For more on this type of frontline autonomy or perhaps the lesser frontline continuous improvement, there’s no other than the Toyota principle.
So where does this lead, it means there’s a shift. Yes people are being matched to tasks, and finding their own…everyone’s happy. But they are also initiating the task themselves (which have to be approved), which is different to the managers setting the tasks.
Rosabeth Moss Kanter says:
Today, people with power and influence derive their power from their centrality within self-organizing networks that might or might not correspond to any plan on the part of designated leaders.
Circles of influence replace chains of command, as in the councils and boards at Cisco which draw from many levels to drive new strategies. Distributed leadership — consisting of many ears to the ground in many places — is more effectives than centralized or concentrated leadership. Fewer people act as power-holders monopolizing information or decision-making, and more people serve as integrators using relationships and persuasion to get things done.
Organizations with high levels of absorptive capacity will tend to be proactive, exploiting opportunities present in the environment. Conversely, organizations with modest absorptive capacity will tend to be reactive, looking for solutions to problems as they arise
ADDED 5-10-11 - oDesk video - The future of work
Project teams at work are beginning to resemble movie production teams
Independent individuals with unique talents get together to work on a company’s project
At the end, they all go their separate ways. They might work together again in the future. They might not.
What about leaders?
I’ve already mentioned Vineet Nayar; next look no further than W.L. Gore for the future of leadership, either watch this video of CEO Terri Kelly (and another) or put a smile on your face by reading the excerpts below:
Our leaders have positions of authority because they have followers…we allow the voice of the organization to determine who’s really qualified to be a leader, based on the willingness of others to follow…One of my associates said, ‘If you call a meeting, and no one shows up, you’re probably not a leader, because no one is willing to follow you.’ At Gore, the test of leadership is that simple: are others willing to follow you? We use a peer review process to identify the individuals who are growing into leadership roles. (snippet)
…our associates, who are all owners in the company, self-commit to what they want to work on. We believe that rather than having a boss or leader tell people what to do, it’s more powerful to have each person decide what they want to work on and where they can make the greatest contribution. But once you’ve made your commitment as an associate, there’s an expectation that you’ll deliver. So there are two sides to the coin: freedom to decide and a commitment to deliver on your promises. (snippet)
Our associates get to choose what commitments to make. If they didn’t know they’re going to be evaluated by their peers, they might be tempted to take on an assignment that is personally interesting to them, a hobby, but one that’s not important for the company. But instead, every associate is constantly thinking, ‘I want to be viewed as making a big contribution to the enterprise,’ so they’re constantly looking for opportunities that will leverage their strengths, and that they’re passionate about. So there’s a natural, built-in pressure: every associate wants to work on something impactful. (snippet)
Typically, an associate will be evaluated by 20 or 30 peers…You don’t evaluate people solely on the basis of what they’re doing within their team, but in terms of the broader impact they may be having across the company. And then beyond their contributions, are they behaving in ways that are collaborative? Are they living the values?……it ensures that real talent gets recognized. This system avoids the problem of paying someone more because of seniority or title. No system is perfect, but ours levels the playing field and allows real talent to emerge and get compensated accordingly….…we ask our associates to view performance holistically, in terms of someone’s total impact, versus focusing on a few specific variables (snippet)
A maverick (which is the title of his book-read the first 6 pages-and see an extended video or some shorter one’s here and here) of this style of leadership and self-organised employees (the real enterprise 2.0) is Ricardo Semler from Semco:
- Every new management hire is interviewed by people who would report to him. If they don’t give him an okay, he doesn’t get the job.
- During annual salary review each person is given a choice to decide his new salary level. He is provided with information about what others at similar level are getting within and outside the company. If he asks for an exorbitant raise, management does not say no. But he has to face the peer pressure because his salary is going to affect profit share of others in the business unit.
- Same applies to expense reports. If he decides to stay in a five-star hotels and others in similar situation normally stay in a three-star it is known to others and the peer pressure works.
- All the employees have access to financial statements and training is given to each person on how to read the balance sheet.
- Each new team can decide and buy the furniture they would like to use.
- Each employee has a vote in important decisions affecting them like where to locate the new plant out of multiple choices.
- In short, employees have great freedom to make decisions. They are encouraged to have all the necessary information to take a decision. As a result they also have the responsibility for the decision because their actions are visible to all and those who are affected put the pressure either encouraging or discouraging such actions.
His focus is Treat employees like adults:
We simply do not believe our employees have an interest in coming in late, leaving early, and doing as little as possible for as much money as their union can wheedle out of us. After all, these are the same people that raise children, join the PTA, elect mayors, governors, senators, and presidents. They are adults. At Semco, we treat them like adults. We trust them. We don’t make our employees ask permission to go to the bathroom, nor have security guards search them as they leave for the day. We get out of their way and let them do their jobs.
Another non-traditional leadership style and culture is at Netflix:
Our model is to increase employee freedom as we grow, rather than limit it, to continue to attract and nourish innovative people so we have better chance of sustained success
And let’s not forget Google:
Google engineers are encouraged to take 20 percent of their time to work on something company-related that interests them personally. This means that if you have a great idea, you always have time to run with it. It sounds obvious, but people work better when they’re involved in something they’re passionate about, and many cool technologies have their origins in 20 percent time, including Gmail, Google News
Let’s not forget IBM either; and back to Luis Suarez’s slides and video, where he talks about Social Business. But in particular Luis talks about how online community members are volunteers and alludes to taking a leaf from this community approach to the real work approach where knowledge workers volunteer, or moreso can have the freedom to choose projects and tasks where their skills and passion best fit. This really ties in with my past post where I talk about community-ship.
I believe WorldBlu is where you will find more of these progressive companies.
Steve Denning has a lot to say in this shift in the meaning of leadership:
Principle #2: New role for managers: From controller to enabler
Focusing on continuously adding new value for clients requires a change in the way work is carried out, because a traditional bureaucracy is not suited to innovation. It was designed to produce consistent performance from largely non-skilled workers. To reach the new level of performance, the organization has to empower those doing the work in self-organizing teams that are responsible for deciding how the work is to be done. The result is a dramatic shift in the role of the manager from controller to enabler.
Organize work in self-organizing teams: The default model of doing work shifts from individuals reporting to bosses, to organizing work in networks of self-organizing teams who regard their clients as “the boss”, not the manager. The teams are responsible for deciding how much work to attempt in any cycle, and how to do the work.
Transmit passion for the goal: People only give their very best if they believe that it is worthwhile. A generic form of a compelling purpose is delighting clients. The manager’s role is to create meaning at work (the purpose of the whole organization as a whole is to delight clients) and meaning in work (the purpose of each team in each iteration is to delight its clients). The manager must articulate the goal with clarity, consistency and passion.
Transfer Power: Creating self-organizing teams that unleash the talents and creativity of their members requires that management transfer power to the team to decide how to go about the work for the duration of the work cycle. The risk involved in transferring power to the team is manageable as a result of the protections offered by dynamic linking: by working in short cycles, nothing can go too far wrong. In this way, performance is given priority over predictability—the opposite of the bureaucratic practices of traditional management.
Hold the team accountable: The transfer in power is conditional on the team actually delivering on delighting clients in each cycle. The transfer of power is thus an offer, for which the team must accept the responsibility to deliver. Then in due course the team is accountable for delivery. It involves creating a setting where a team has an appropriate role in deciding how much work can be done and in removing impediments so that the team gets on a steadily improving trajectory. After standing back and letting the team get on with the job, the team is held accountable for the results as determined by the client.
Thinking about the future of work
Others like Rachel Happe include this employee flexibility in their future of work pondering:
Employment becomes a cross between a long-term commitment and free-agency: The organization provides employee overhead (benefits) in exchange for a commitment to work a minimum number of hours on organizational projects.
…Managers no longer ‘own’ a functional piece of the business but either manage a group of employees to help them choose projects and navigate their career or they manage projects.
…Employees are free to self-commit to projects for which they are interested and have time. Project managers define project roles, time needed, and associated pay and are responsible for recruiting team members and managing the project to completion…
Actually I’ve noticed that my notes that are in Rachel Happe’s link above is a summary of the thinking in this post.
JP has much the same to say:
1. The person will select the “task”, rather than be given the “task”
Ever since the inception of the modern firm, people were given tasks to do in a prescriptive, deterministic manner. Initially this made sense, since firms were built on industrial-revolution models, and linear workflow was the norm. But that was for a different time, and the environment has changed completely. Talent is at a premium…The most precious asset of the knowledge-worker enterprise is the knowledge worker, her human and social capital, her relationships and her capabilities. It makes more sense to expose knowledge workers to problem domains and then giving them the resources and tools to solve those problems.
3. True team-based work will become the norm, not the exception.
For decades we’ve been talking about teamwork in the enterprise, but that’s what it’s been for the most part. Talk….The “team”, in practice, is distributed across different departments, functions, locations. And the very structure of the firm militates against teamwork, since these departments, functions and locations tend to optimise within the department, function or location. That optimisation is often underpinned, even accelerated, by the reward system in place, which places a premium on the results of such local optimisation. Interdepartmental cooperation and collaboration is, sometimes unintentionally, sometimes very much on purpose, made difficult.
JP also recently re-iterated the requirements for the future of work (the real enterprise 2.0):
Work is changing;..too often, we spend time exception-handling as the squarenesses of the pegs that come our way, stoutly and solidly resist our ability to place them in the roundnesses of the process holes we built to receive them
Hierarchical structures were the most efficient way of getting things done: deciding what’s to be done, allocating the tasks to people, giving them the resources needed, sending and receiving the “orders”, aggregating news of progress, dealing with the “conflict” of change, monitoring progress, intervening as required. This is not the same for knowledge workers; often, such decisions are better taken by domain experts closer to the “coalface”. Overall vision and strategy still tend to get set by leaders and leadership teams, but these are leaders, not managers, with the responsibility to do just that: lead.
As a result of these trends, there are new demands on the enterprise. Knowledge workers need smarter ways to discover what needs to be done, the context in which to do it, the tools available, past learning. They need smarter ways to discover potential team members, people with the right mix of skills to carry out the tasks. They need better dashboards to tell them about their operating environment, external and internal stimuli and feedback loops. They need more effective ways to train for all this, to learn the patterns rather than the processes, so that they can apply their personal and collective intelligence to solve the problems they face.
Oscar Berg describes his running environment; the way that his network and technology enable him to fulfill and optimize his running. But he also mentions that this is not possible without the fundamental drive:
…it couldn’t have been created without a deeper understanding of what motivates people and how to design an environment that triggers the right behaviors.
So the bottom line is this: If the environment described above can turn almost anyone into a runner, we can be pretty sure that a work environment that is designed with an understanding of what make people more motivated, collaborative and productive at work, and where performance models and management practices are adjusted accordingly, can turn an underperforming business to one that thrives and outperforms its competitors.
Let’s conclude with Stowe Boyd:
In this not-too-distant future businesses may principally be organized around helping every employee find and achieve their personal meaning for work, instead of trying to indoctrinate workers to a corporate agenda.
Think of a playground. When a kid approaches a play ground they really don’t need their parent to set their task (play on the slide) or find an existing task and involve them (build sand castles with those children over there), instead within the boundaries and purpose of the organisation employees can find their own tasks. Will the future of work become more like the playground where you are expected to find your own place and tasks, and leads approve, enable and coach them.
Hang on there’s more…
The autonomy to choose who to work with and what projects to work on is going to become the basis of a new Work Bill Of Rights. Freelancers have that choice inherently, since they simply can turn down work with potential employers. Inside the worksplace, full-time employment in a social business will be based on this degree of freedom.
This points to a paper where Tom Malone talks about cheap information access as a pre-cursor or reason that flexible work can happen…I think we can add online social networks as an ingredient:
I think we are in the early stages of an increase in human freedom in business that may, in the long run, be as important a change for business as the change to democracy was for governments. This is happening because cheap communication lets more people have enough information that they can make sensible decisions for themselves instead of just following orders from people above them in the hierarchy. And that means we can have the economic benefits of large-scale enterprises, such as efficiency and scale, and at the same time have the human benefits of small scale, such as motivation, creativity and flexibility.
I’ve covered Andy McAfee’s thinking on this before.
What Rawn has to say:
We still realize that there are significant benefits of working in groups and organizations, but many now realize that the pendulum swung too far to force work behavior to fit into the limitations once ascribed by the lack of communications, geographical location limitations, growing employee bases, diversity of job roles, and on measuring individual contributions to completed work. The forces of automation, communications, globalization, and competition have created practical solutions to minimize or eliminate many of these.
What a way to finish with Rawn’s description of flexible work employment (this is the person who works within an organisation but as the freedom to select tasks)
Everywhere we look, we can see the U.S. workforce undergoing a massive change. No longer do we work at the same company for 25 years, waiting for the gold watch, expecting the benefits and security that come with full-time employment. We’re no longer simply lawyers, or photographers, or writers. Instead, we’re part-time lawyers-cum- amateur photographers who write on the side.
Today, careers consist of piecing together various types of work, juggling multiple clients, learning to be marketing and accounting experts, and creating offices in bedrooms/coffee shops/coworking spaces. Independent workers abound. We call them freelancers, contractors, sole proprietors, consultants, temps, and the self-employed.
And, perhaps most surprisingly, many of them love it.
This transition is nothing less than a revolution. We haven’t seen a shift in the workforce this significant in almost 100 years when we transitioned from an agricultural to an industrial economy. Now, employees are leaving the traditional workplace and opting to piece together a professional life on their own.
Given this is the trend; if organisations want to attract and keep talent (which impacts on performance, or moreso, which is the lifeblood of the organisation in the new era-remember we have gone from people following instruction manuals to knowledge workers applying talent to situations as they arise), they need to offer this type of scenario where employees can act as pseudo-freelancers within an organisation.
That’s the end of the post!!
HERE’S SOME RELATED TOPICS
Personal outsourcing: For the first time, employees all up and down the line have access to information they need to do their jobs better, advance companies, and advance their careers. John Schmidt so accurately described it as “personal outsourcing.” Unlike the traditional model for outsourcing — firms contracting out functions or processes to an outside firm — “individuals are starting to outsource their problem-solving and their own professional development,” he says. “They’re leveraging things like wikis, blogs, other collaboration events to collaborate in real-time with other individuals.” IT professionals go to Google, Wikipedia, and other online sources of support, Schmidt says. “They write out their question in their blog and look for their community to respond and help them. …they extended their network of peers to outside the four walls of their company. …they’re taking their problems and their professional challenges to the world.”
…time sheets tend to create an implicit acceptance that agency labor should be bought and sold as a commodity. This conflicts with what most agencies say they sell — they say they sell “solutions” or “innovations.” But in this way, they are very similar to temp agencies, which sell nothing but the labor of their temp workers.
If your daily practice of categorizing your time into “billable” (good for the company) and “non-billable” (cost for the company) then it is arguable too that you internalize these goals. You believe it necessary to be sufficiently “billable” for you and the company to succeed. But what of the many profitable industries hire workers that are not “billable” at all? How do they survive? If profitability were about billable hours, then many high value-add industries such as pharmaceuticals, investment banking, and oil & gas would simply go under.
…a transition away from measuring performance by your sheer presence and instead measuring that same performance based on the results you provide and deliver, resulting in the elimination of the traditional work hours.
ADDED - A Google+ discussion here