Have you ever seen the Canadian TV programme “Saving Hope”? The main character is Dr Charlie Harris, Chief Surgeon of Hope Zion Hospital in Toronto. He is in a coma following a car crash. Whilst unconscious his spirit walks the halls of the hospital and helps the spirits of others who are also in comas or have recently died. You are probably wondering what on earth the connection is between disembodied spirits and intrapreneurship? Read on and you will see!
I have met and worked with a number of intrapreneurs during my 30 plus years working as an Organisation Development practitioner. My experience is that many of them are like the poor souls Dr Charlie tries to help! The halls of the organisations seem to be full of the spirits of intrapreneurs, walking round trying to influence things, but finding it incredibly difficult to be heard and to do the job they were brought in to do.
I have recently co-authored a book titled The Workplace Community “A guide to releasing human potential and engaging employees.” Central to the book is an exploration of how we choose to organise the way we work. In the book my co-author and I examine 4 different ways of working; hierarchy, project or programme management, workplace communities and intrapreneurial ways of working. We believe hierarchy is a ‘default position’ for most people and organisations. By default position, we mean most people choose to work hierarchically without even considering other options, a bit like computers in the ‘olden days’ that defaulted to the ‘c’ drive as soon as you turned them on.
There is nothing wrong with hierarchy per se and certainly for some activities it is the best way of working. However I believe that about 75% of the work we do could be organised more effectively using one of the other modes mentioned above. The problem with hierarchy is that it tends to drive out innovation and creativity and I believe is particularly incompatible with intrapreneurial activities. Successful hierarchy rests upon predictable behaviour, people knowing their place, decisions moving up and down the line, risk aversion and change being planned and programmed. Intrapreneurialism is more chaotic, opportunistic and risk driven. It relies on what a hierarchy is likely to consider unusual and unnecessary connections, making links and forming networks across silos and lines. All of this is an anathema in a hierarchical organisation.
Intrapreneurship offers organisations the opportunity to raise the level of innovation and bring fresh new thinking that has the possibility of leading to new ideas, opportunities and innovations. However when initiated in organisations wedded to hierarchy, as their dominant way of working, it is far too easy for the corporate antibodies to emerge, hunt down, attack and kill intrapreneurship stone dead and lead to the syndrome of ghosts in the hall I mentioned above. Hierarchy finds it difficult to tolerate difference.
It is very easy for organisations to jump on the intrapreneurship bandwagon without thinking through how they need to shift their culture and ways of working in order to maximise the benefit that it offers and not kill it stone dead before it has a chance to deliver. To do this they need an OD plan that will help them make appropriate shifts and changes to their organisation that will allow intrapreneurship to flourish and deliver.
One way of achieving this is through experimenting with workplace communities and using these experiments as a way of preparing the organisation for intrapreneurship. By a workplace community I don’t mean people sitting round waiting for their turn with the talking stick! What I mean is a structured and planned way by which people have the opportunity to work outside of traditional hierarchies and silos. Engaging with each other in new and different ways and as a consequence creating extraordinary results. In our increasingly knowledge based economy, what we all know, our thoughts, ideas, creativity, innovation and willingness to share and collaborate, are critical for creating value for organisations and the individuals who work for them.
Community ways of working provide organisations with a way to tap into collective intelligence, engage people in a common sense of direction and in doing so provide the opportunity for unleashing individual and collective innovation. As such they are a good way of preparing the organisation for intrapreneurship. Readying the ground and acting as a form of organisational interferon, stopping the corporate antibodies from killing intrapreneurship and leading to less ghost walking the corporate halls!