Collaborative Leadership and Participation (Part 1)

By Alexander Klier By Jeffrey Backus Apr 4, 2015
Collaborative Leadership and Participation (Part 1)

Translation of the Original Article by Alexander Klier

The digital transformation entails far-reaching changes for companies. Companies require new forms of leadership or for the Leadership to allow participation – especially on the group level.
Picture: Leipzig weiter denken by: Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung. Use under the terms of the Creative Commons BY-SA (Attribution - use alike).

As part of the digital transformation, a social collaboration is seen as a disruptive technology. This means that it breaks with many traditional notions of cooperation (radically). But not only with the forms of collaboration: with this the new question is being raised how collaboration should be organized, who leads in those conditions, and if there won’t be a transition to a democratic company. This debate is one of the traditional disputes about a participatory workplace. Although the cited practical examples show a beneficial different perspective on production, economy and working conditions. But new terms and "buzzwords" are brought into play again and again in these discussions on those facts, such as a "Holacracy" compared to the older concept of "Sociocracy". Siegfried Lautenbacher and I would like to contribute with our Blog Posts to the clarification of the terms, the problems – and the proposed solutions to the problems. The first part – this Blog Post – will deal with the question how leadership and Management have to change to ensure participation. In the second part (here) Siegfried Lautenbacher will deal with the logical continuation of these ideas, starting from the participatory work, via democratic organization through to holocratic companies.

Leadership vs. Management

"Management is the most inefficient conceivable form of leadership!" Harald Schirmer - from an authoritative point - differentiates very passionately between Management and Leadership (for example here and here). In his eyes, the management of companies is therefore no longer sustainable because it does not apply in virtual environments or in forms of digital collaboration (any longer). Management originally stems from the same circumstance, which has become a general obstacle to social collaboration: the "scientific management" à la Frederic Taylor. In contrast, Leadership stands for him as a "commitment" that includes "respect, attention, empathy, interest" and "coaching" as elements. However, the aspects mentioned by him only apply in business or work context if the leadership has common underlying values. At the same time, there has to be a space for action: for the employees as well as the leadership. Collaborative co-working in this case will be a process of negotiation, with respect to common interests, introduced resources, and of course the business objectives. For Harald Schirmer this change, which must be on an equal footing, can be only performed through a "change of leadership" (Leading Change). In further statements, I will happily go along with this interpretation of Leadership, even in opposition to management. On a more general level, I would put it like this: Due to the ever-existing system constraints in organizations, the concrete conditions of action show a political (in the sense of Community) dimension: They are characterized differently and allow, for example, employees in companies various degrees to influence one's own possibilities of action. Above all the working conditions are negotiable in varying degrees. Traditional management structures that have emerged in hierarchical and tayloristic companies exercise power through coercion and control. They are supposed to create or enforce an extrinsic motivation to work. However, in the digital world a transformation of labor capacity in work it is only possible to a small degree with this. Leadership must bring about intrinsically motivated labor action of employees within the meaning of productive (virtual) teams. This will usually be enabled through a strong involvement of employees in the decision-making (in the context of their groups). In our view this means an enablement of a Social Collaboration.

Collaborative Leadership & Decision

In economics, the term micro-politics has emerged to describe the behaviors of employees in regards to power and dominion in companies. Micro-politics refers to how the everyday actions of organizations and companies handle that maneuverability is ensured or can be achieved or filled. Micro-politics are not intended in a management approach, even if it takes place in real terms. However, the leadership approach just takes the micro-political circumstances as an opportunity to shape the working conditions jointly, i.e. participatory. This can be well displayed with the question on corporate decision-making processes.  
In establishments and companies, they decide daily, whether strategically or operatively. Decisions in organizations represent a process that is inextricably linked with elements of implementation and enforcement. The question of how each of these decisions come into existence and are implemented is a very basic (micro) political one. Especially decentralized structures and flat hierarchies necessitate a variety of decision-making processes, which will no longer be organized by the management, but take place in groups. Nevertheless, this also means that this former privilege of management needs to be completed in addition. These are, depending on the type of decision quite elaborate processes that need to be organized firstly. Many do not see these as a necessary job, which has to take place to ensure the “actual” work. Leadership takes this now clearly as a competence of the group and derives for example the question of the necessary available resources. As a discursive process, together with and in the group. Decision and Participation Under such an outlined Leadership, the following questions arise now regarding the decision-making processes:

  • What proportion of the decision-making process do employees actually have?
  • How are they enabled – if desired –for participation in the decisions?
  • And what proportion do they finally have in the implementation of decision?
  • How far do these decisions reach into the company?

Referring back to our initial theme, the "highly political", but at least micro-political central questions that will be answered differently depending on the management model and management idea. Which, on the other hand, require a response so that the operational structures can be designed accordingly. The participation and autonomy that arises from a Social Collaboration leadership is thereby connected to a fundamental political idea of organization and its values. This creed could read “We are the company”, how Catherine Hoffmann cites in her article in the Süddeutsche Zeitung and thus picks up on the topic.

Structures, Trust, & Transparency

Under the initiative "Working Out Loud" (WOL) by John Stepper (here in German and here as a group on Yammer) it becomes clear what is inseparable from collaborative leadership and decision-making authority: The transparency in the work processes and regarding the outcome. Only then can the employees make the right decisions. But in addition to transparency, the collaborative work also requires the trust of employees for it to succeed. Virtually looking over those shoulders that contribute to the success of the collaborative result, is only possible when all stakeholders are open to these opposite ideas and consent actively. WOL is insofar the logical continuation of the collaboration concept for the purposes of transmission across corporate boundaries. Going back to the opening statement by Harald Schirmer: Leadership as part of a social collaboration also means ensuring a structure, which allows negotiation processes (in groups), demands trust and transparency, thereby promoting the mutual consideration. This structural empowerment (because not solely dependent on a virtuous attitude) is a necessary supplement to Leadership. In particular, it suggests a comparison with the democratic process, because even these are about participation, transparency, power and eventually control of power. This has fed the debate about participation in the workplace and the question of whether a participatory workplace design is actually sufficient for Leadership (for example here, here and here). In the second part of this blog (here) Siegfried Lautenbacher will continue to discuss whether the consistent further development of this idea (necessarily) leads to a democratic company. "The New Power of Collaboration" - Howard Rheingold explained in TED Talk, the new nature of a social collaboration. Many conclusions can be derived from this in terms of leadership, but also of organizational structures. His appeal is to think about new organizational structures. You can see the transcript here.