What should you do, if you had the power to stop it, when a group decides to do something you are convinced will hurt them?
What should you do if you were charged with deciding in the name of millions of people who don’t have the time to fully understand the issue you’re deciding on?
As I read the news about Brexit, a possibility that even when I went to bed yesterday seemed unrealistic, these questions kept bothering me. I think this is a bad decision for the future of the UK, but who am I to over-rule the majority? I always tell organizations that they should empower Scrum teams to take decisions on a product, the Brexit news made me feel like a manager who says “what if I think they are taking the wrong decision?”
On the other hand, it depresses me to see the level of dialogue regarding such an important topic. Lies and exaggerations by everybody, since there seems to be a consensus in politics now that voters should be convinced by emotions, not facts. If the people don’t have actual information and context, can they take such a decision? I intimidate my ideals with these rhetorical questions as I keep reading the news.
Clearly, organizations and nations are not the same thing. So drawing parallels between the two is risky, at best. At the same time, I think it is interesting to consider the key differences between the two, in order to better understand why these questions are easier to deal with in an organization.
In my previous post I mentioned how organizations are societies. And management thinking is pointing these “organizational societies” in a clear direction, which includes:
- Increased autonomy (decisions at local level) over rigid decision structures
- Cross-functional, self-organizing teams over silos and bureaucracy
- Purpose-driven and over extrinsic motivators
- Collaboration over process
And within these constraints, topics such as governance and decision-making are being re-evaluated as teams and organizations experiment with different techniques. For example:
- Zappos (and others) trying out holacracy as their governance model.
- Morning Star’s Colleague Letter of Understanding (CLOU) requires employees to make explicit expectations and commitments with any colleague they have an important interaction, effectively replacing the need for formal structure by making the informal one transparent
These are all encouraging trends, enabling organizations to be not only productive, but places were people can grow and feel (professionally, at least) fulfilled.
These advances in management thinking are making organizations better societies.
But they don’t work in countries because the two (organizations and nations) are different beasts entirely. Some key differences:
- Participation is voluntary in an organization, involuntary in a nation
(I’m a Brazilian citizen, and I can’t easily change my nationality, even after my team loses 7 x 1 in the World Cup)
- Geography is not a big constraint for an organization, the primary one for a nation
(Lesotho cannot change its location just because they are running out of water)
- An organization can disappear, a nation can’t (normally)
(Organizations fail and go bankrupt all the time, nations don’t have that luxury)
- An organization has a clear purpose and culture, a nation is usually, at best, a melting pot
(What values, practices and beliefs do wealthy farmers in the south of Brazil share with public school teachers in the north?)
These factors make governance and structure easier in organizations. It means that transparency can fuel self-governance since people are more engaged. Every day you going to the office is a day you choose to work there. And taking responsibility as an employee is easier than taking responsibility as a citizen because you’re more connected.
No, I’m not suggesting a solution for nations. Or for Brexit.
The changing political winds and the increased voice of extremist parties in the West is worrying. It’s leading to emotion-based discussion of serious public policy issues. We play power games, gambling with our children’s fortunes, while the Pied Piper leads them away. And you feel powerless. I do.
Some organizations start to mirror nations in how they govern themselves. Bureaucracy, hierarchy, mis-trust, politics and lack of transparency. The bigger they are the stronger the resemblance. They replicate the same power games we see in the public government space. And they do it at the expense of their organization, employees and stakeholders.
Organizations are unbound by some of the constraints that limit nations, so whenever they fail as a social system, it is all the more unforgivable and depressing.