Corporate power is concentrated in too few hands. We propose the creation of Collaborative Leadership programmes to address this and would harness the skills and wisdom of a wider group of stakeholders. Creative faciliation would be the primary medium to develop a more democratic organisational culture.
Corporate power is concentrated in too few hands. A small group of senior executives take most of the key decisions without feeling the need to involve employees, shareholders or other stakeholders and only rarely are held to effective account. The consequences of this include:
Massive and repeated failures in corporate governance and mission (eg the systemic near-collapse of the banking sector in 2008, repeated scandals in the financial, pharmaceuticals and defence sectors involving bribery, mis-selling and other forms of corruption and the ever-more outlandish levels of “executive remuneration” at a time when many ordinary workers have seen their real incomes cut)
The pursuit of short-term profits as a primary goal of corporate managers, largely to the exclusion of other goals that are as or more important to society at large (eg taking environmental and social equality issues seriously and securing the long-term future of the business)
Disengaged employees and a correspondingly higher rate of staff turnover
A tiny fraction of the total creative energy and talent embodied in the company’s workforce actually being used
Customers often getting shoddy service (eg call centres, “it’s not our problem”-type bureaucracy)
We propose the creation of Collaborative Leadership In Organisations (CLIO) programmes to address these problems. These would not be along the traditional lines of leadership development in companies, in which external consultants deliver training programmes in one model or another of “leadership excellence” to a small and select group of “future executive talent”. Instead they would have the following elements:
The Great Re-Imagining - a creative exercise for all management, staff and other key stakeholders (eg shareholders) in which they re-imagine their organisation - what do they want it to do? what do they want it to be known for? what would they like to contribute to it if they had the chance? what impact do they want it to have on society?
“Creative clusters” : mixed groups of managers and employees from all levels of the organisation who would be convened at regular intervals to work on everything from corporate purpose and social/ environmental objectives to customer service, product and service innovation, budgeting and HR issues and to agree on actions that will move the organisation towards the key things contained in the Great Re-Imagining.
Creative facilitation skills training: a programme for all staff in how to design and facilitate group processes to a clear brief and towards constructive outcomes
Over time, the gradual replacement of traditional top-down line management with horizontal networks of creative clusters as the principal means for the organisation to direct itself, to learn and to plan for the future.
CLIO programmes would, over time, bring about a profound change in how an organisation’s managers and staff viewed their proper roles and also viewed their ability to make a real contribution to the running and direction of the organisation.
Key decisions would benefit from being taken by a wider group of people with a greater variety of outlooks, views and experience than currently. Employees would be more engaged as result of the expanded opportunities for them to be involved and to make a creative contribution.The adoption of facilitation as the dominant model of analysing problems, considering alternative courses of action and arriving at collective choices would add greatly to the sense of cohesion among the organisation’s employees and to a mutual appreciation of one another’s skills and talents. This in turn would help to create a culture of positive intent and energy that would raise productivity and the resilience of the organisation to changes in the external environment.
The organisation would also benefit from an improved public perception and reputation; and society would benefit from it being run in a way which reflects the full range of concerns and ambitions of its staff rather than simply a very narrow focus on short run profits.
One major challenge would be that management might regard a CLIO programme as a threat. They might fear that it would undermine their authority, call into question why they are being paid what they are paid and generally bring chaotic change which would be impossible to manage properly. Another challenge might be that employees would be cynical about the scope for real change in how the organisation is run and so might be unwilling to engage with the process. A third might be that all parties are uninformed about or are suspicious of group facilitation as a way of working and sceptical about their ability to resolve differences of views and take decisions other than by “adversarial argument”, in which one side “wins” and the other “loses”.
We think that the best way of overcoming these challenges is for an organisation to commit itself in the first instance just to a small-scale pilot event. This might be for a group of, say, 15-20 people and might address itself to one current issue facing the organisation (eg “how do we increase our market share by 10% next year?”; “how do we cope with funding cuts of 20%?”; “how do we stop our operations polluting the seabed?” etc). The group would include people from all levels of the organisation and would spend a day together in a facilitated process that would be designed to help them explore their differing attitudes and ideas about the question and to create choices about how the organisation should respond to it.
The pilot event would demonstrate to the participants the possibility of them working in this sort of way to solve problems of common concern to them and also the benefits of doing so. It would provide reassurance too that working like this need not be chaotic or result in anyone’s position being undermined; rather it results in a working environment in which everyone’s talents and ideas can find expression.
An organisation wanting to take a first step towards creating a culture of collaborative leadership need do no more than organise a pilot event, or a small series of pilot events, as described above in the Challenges section. It can then evaluate the success of the pilot and the learning from it before deciding whether and how it wishes to proceed further.
W Ross Ashby