Friday, March 16, 2012

The democratisation of the workplace.

As I Tweeted just the other day:
We are looking at a movement for democratisation of the workplace that is no less significant than the industrial revolution.
I believe that many things we see around us and read about in the media are signs of a current shift in the nature of work and the workplace at least as significant as the Industrial Revolution.

I believe that the current democratisation of the workplace is one part of this. But what do I mean by democratisation? I mean that the organisational structures and the orgaisational processes that exist in companies are becoming less hierarchical and more collaborative. And I think this democratisation has emerged as a response to two main pressures:

1. The increased complexity of doing business.
Many research papers are now citing business leaders who believe that the complexity of doing business has risen substantially in recent years. Organisations must, in order to cope with this increased complexity, mirror the business situation and create newer and ever more complex organisational structures and processes. The old hierarchical models of organisations and processes are unable to adapt to this increased complexity and so new collaborative models are of necessity born.

2. The rise of collaboration through Online gaming & Social media.
Social media & online gaming have resulted in a generation of employees highly trained in collaboration and very aware that they are embedded in a network. This has given them an almost instinctive understanding of complexity and a mindset that sees hierarchies as highly inefficient problem solving structures. This network view also carries with it a dislike for Taylorist management where a manager is a) assumed to be more competent and know more than his/her subordinates; and b) possessing a theory x mindset and believes that work is somehow intrinsically negative and that employees must be coerced into working hard. These employees have experienced free collaboration and view it as a far superior way to solve problems and they view their work as, potentially at least, a set of problem solving exercises with the opportunity to learn and grow.

These two forces (along with the larger shift in the nature of work) will, I believe, result in entirely new collaborative structures in place of the organisational models we see doing business today. The borders between the organisation and the customer will be blurred, there will be collaboration in place of management, and many leadership functions we see today will be transformed into mere supporting services.

I call all of this the "democratisation of the workplace" and whether you like it or not, I believe, it will very soon be coming to an organisation near you.

Thursday, March 08, 2012

World of Warcraft management bootcamp

Today's young developers seem to know an awful lot about management.

When I entered the software development industry some almost 20 years ago I was green and naive. I knew more or less nothing about software development and I knew less than nothing about management of people and teams. This is not the case today. Today's young developers have been trained in collaborative problem solving and goal achievement since they were barely out of nappies, or diapers in the case of my American readers.

In online games, such as World or Warcraft, loosely coupled groups collaborate to achieve sometimes seemingly impossible goals. They organize the work, prepare & plan, select leaders and adapt to changing situations on the fly. Yes, they have leaders; but these leaders are subject to constant peer reviews and should they be found lacking they are quickly replaced. Reputation within the community - based almost entirely on previous performance - determines seniority and although many activities are tightly disciplined events; individuals are always free to select which endeavors they deem interesting or important enough to take part in.

This organisational framework mirrors the best agile organisations I have seen or read about. This should not be surprising as research shows us that this is the way humans have collaborated to achieve goals for all of our history. It is only really since the industrial revolution that we have attempted to build large organizations without collaboration and with rigid permanent hierarchies.

This early training has resulted in young developers possessing remarkable management skills often far more advanced than many of their older and more experienced colleagues at work. In agile organizations this is not a problem but in organizations with traditional Taylorist views of management there is an inevitable conflict. These young developers know very well how to organize their work and quickly see where improvements to the organization could be made. Managers, feeling threatened, attempt to tighten their grip on what they perceive as a rebellious workforce unwilling to follow conventions and rules. It is the irresistible force meeting the immovable object.

So I believe the advancement of so called modern (but in reality very old) management techniques is inevitable, as is the decline in Taylorist thinking, and the future belongs to these young masters of collaboration, trained in the arena of online gaming.

P.S. I could have also included something about their early exposure to open source projects, but I decided to save that for another post :P