Archive for the ‘Collaboration’ Category


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We continue to use the same structures and organize work in the same way as we have for decades, but is there a more effective way to benefit from our collective intelligence?

The way in which we organize work has pretty much remained unchanged for more than 100 years, despite the transformation that we are all experiencing and the fact that we are now in a knowledge-based digital age.

Work is still organized largely by hierarchy and department, much as it was in the early industrial era. Employers continue to use these structures automatically by default, without thinking or considering what other options might be available.

What if we stop and think, pause to consider how we might accomplish our objectives in another way, and think about how we might be able to tap into more of the collective intelligence available both inside and outside of our organizations?

Working without limits

It makes sense to use hierarchy to organize repeatable work, such as payroll or compliance services, because these are areas of business that rely on certainty and predictability. They are also typically repetitive activities where any variation needs to be carefully planned, tightly controlled, monitored and recorded.

However, organizing work in hierarchy limits creativity, innovation and the opportunity for the unexpected, and more than 75% of the work of most organizations does not require hierarchy as the dominant organization form.

Hierarchy may be sufficient to get the job done, but it may not be necessary. By making hierarchy our “default choice”, intentionally or otherwise, we limit the possibility of achieving better outcomes and results, and raising the engagement of employees.

Seeking alternatives

Many academics, management gurus and operational development practitioners have, in the last few years, been calling for a review of how we organize the way we work.

They have been looking for alternative ways of organizing that will unleash the holy grail of employee engagement, increase discretionary effort and create organizations where people feel able to work to the best of their capabilities.

This has included exploring how to make project management more agile and lean, introducing ideas about matrix organizations and even exploring “intrapreneurship”, which aims to bring into the workplace the kind of culture and work practices that are present in start-ups.

One way of working that is under-explored and underused is that of the workplace community.

Workplace communities

By workplace communities, we mean a structured and planned way by which people have the opportunity to contribute and work outside of the traditional hierarchy, silos and matrices that exist within the organization. Engaging with each other in very different ways can create extraordinary results for the business.

In our experience, most organizations are laced with communities, however, these mainly remain small, often invisible and hampered by a lack of explicit support and license.

In the increasingly knowledge-based economy, our knowledge, thoughts, ideas, creativity, innovation and our willingness to share and collaborate are critical for creating value for organizations and the individuals who work for them.

Workplace communities provide a way to tap into this collective intelligence, engage people in a common sense of purpose and provide the opportunity for unleashing intrapreneurship across the organization.

Break down barriers

Imagine a workplace where people are not bound by departmental barriers, a place where employees feel a commitment to the whole organization and not just their department.

Here, we have employees who see the organization “in the round” and feel that their contribution makes a difference, despite this not being part of their job description, or annual tasks and targets.

This is the kind of workplace where people feel such a strong sense of community that being a partisan is not an option.

We believe that workplace communities, if implemented with diligence and care, can unleash latent talent, capability and capacity in the organization, and in doing so have a positive affect on business results and employee engagement.

We are increasingly living and working in a multi-generational, digital, knowledge-based, global workplace, enabled by the internet and social media.

Not only do we believe that the current workforce is looking for new ways of working and achieving, but we also know, from our research, that the generations entering the workplace, Gen Y or the Net Gen (“Gen Z”), are looking for a different relationship between them and their work, one that is not bound by the traditions of those that have gone before them.

They have grown up with the web and associated technology and are expecting to experience the kind of freedoms, connections and opportunities for both business and personal achievement that is available in all other aspects of their lives.

Strike a bargain

Workplace communities do not come about by accident, they require intentionality.

You need to establish a clear understanding of what you are aiming to do, developing both a “plausible promise” and what the “bargain” is for both employees and the organization as a whole.

You need to develop an initiation plan, as well as review what current communication and collaboration tools and technology you have available.

You also need to understand the stages that a workplace community goes through, what to do if it gets stuck and how to measure its effectiveness.

Workplace communities are not the “holy grail” of work organization, but we believe that by starting to utilize them you will shift your thinking and that of your employees.

In doing so, this will provide you with the opportunity to take a fresh look at how work is undertaken and the opportunity to create the “future of work” in your own organization


Ian Gee and Matthew Hanwell are the co-authors of “The workplace community: A guide to releasing human potential and engaging employees   Find out more about the book here.



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!

Purposeful Passion

Posted: September 18, 2013 by Matthew Hanwell in Collaboration, Human Resources, Leadership

I recently purchased a 1966 Land Rover. As a form of transport I can’t think of a rational reason to buy a car that is 45+ years old. However I have always been interested in classic cars, for me a 1966 Series IIA Land Rover is about as iconic a classic car as you can find, and given its capabilities and the way is it put together it is also ‘rather’ practical and can go almost anywhere. I have been looking to buy one for a couple of years, now that I have bought one I’m looking forward to maintaining it and keeping it in good working condition, some would say a rolling restoration. Oh and it used to be a Fire Engine, which gives it a certain unique feeling, and some attention.

Having been an owner now for a couple of months, one of the first things you do is to search the web, what information is available, any help, advice, support? Are you alone, or are there other people who share your interest and passion?

I have been amazed at the flourishing communities that I have found on the web related to old Land Rovers. The sharing, generosity and the support people have given is quite remarkable. From discussions on the smallest technical detail, discussions on suppliers, parts, quality, through to people asking for help and advice and receiving it in abundance. People are sharing the progress of their own restoration projects, often receiving encouragement and support, other forum members demonstrate their interest in how these projects are progressing, and actively request ‘more photos’ as a status update. People openly share the challenges and difficulties they are having, other forum members offer support guidance, practical advice as to how to overcome them. These communities are all virtual, with as far as I can see members located all over the world, and I imagine most have never meet physically, but it feels as if when there is an abundance of passion, with a common purpose it unleashes something in us, our caring and our willingness to give, to share and to help.

Having experienced this for my new hobby, I started to think about the world of work and the extent to which I have experienced this level of passion, purpose, generosity, sharing, support and caring at work? The answer for me is not that often, why ?

I think that all too often we take it for granted that at work we share a common purpose. Such a purpose is often in the form of a vision, a mission statement, perhaps a slogan, this may appear in power points, shared on websites, used in marketing, but I do wonder how real the shared purpose is? By real I mean it is something that people within the organization are actually guided by, something which people intrinsically understand, something which gives them a feeling that it is worth working for, something that is meaningful, worthwhile and transcends a financial objective or a business goal. I fear that such a purpose, perhaps a call to action, a corporate mission statement while easily recited, and frequently used, fails to inspire the very people that it should, the employees.

It is difficult to be passionate without focus, without a sense of purpose. No doubt we can be passionate about our individual professions, perhaps our teams, our own roles, and the work that we perform individually, but as I’m experiencing with the Land Rover communities is there an overarching purpose that releases the passion within us collectively, one that that transcends the individual. We have free choice when it comes to our hobbies, our interests, so no surprise this is where we demonstrate our passion, we choose to spend our time, our energy, our effort, but why should this diminished when we are at work ?

Does a corporate environment nurture generosity? Does it encourage and reward (and I don’t mean financially) sharing, and support? While at work do we feel like helping other people within our organization, voluntarily, or are we all exclusively focused on our individual goals and objectives?

I believe organizations that are looking to release untapped energy, passion and authentically engage their employee can learn a lot of lessons from such hobby based communities. After all we all have the capacity to be passionate at work; the question is what do organizations need to do to create the conditions where that passion can be releases and focused on the organizations objectives.

Anyway back to the spanners and grease for me, but imagine if we could unleash even 10% more of our passion at work?





Posted: October 19, 2012 by Matthew Hanwell in Collaboration, Organization, Social Media

Is Collaboration a bad word? As in collaborating with the enemy – in the extreme punishable by death!

I always found it surprising working in a large organization that people didn’t collaborate far more, or be actively looking for ways to collaborate with their colleagues. This collaboration could be in the context of a team, a unit, in a meeting, a workshop, or across the whole company, using whichever form of communication medium. I would sometimes ask colleagues (half jokingly) what was the name of the company on their corporate badge – sometimes it felt as if colleagues were indeed the enemy.

Some neuroscientists believe we are hardwired to distrust everyone except our own family members, so no wonder it is difficult for us to collaborate with colleagues. How related are we?

Of course not all collaboration creates value, it can create a lot of noise and even disruption, but in my opinion it is better to have too much than too little. Sometimes a lack of collaboration is put down to the difficulty of finding people and knowledge within the organization. Corporate directories and knowledge management solutions are put in place to address this, but often these become underutilised once the initial hype and enthusiasm has dwindled. I remember asking an engineer once why they hadn’t completed their profile (skills, experience, etc.) in a corporate directory – they told me that they already had enough work to do, and didn’t want to attract any more. Perhaps people are simply unwilling to collaborate?

In a workshop setting, running group activities, most often the groups of people formed into temporary teams would by default compete against each other, assuming they were in a competitive situation verses the other teams. Almost never sharing or collaborating, even though no such instruction was given, and even in the case where a common external competitor was identified.

Individual objectives and goals have also been mentioned to me as a reason for a lack of collaboration: I’ll focus on my own goals or objectives. I am not rewarded for collaborating with others, or for helping them achieve their objectives, it just wastes my time. Or perhaps it is the stress associated with such goals, and deadlines? Could the answer lie in having more unifying objectives, objectives where it is only possible to accomplish the result through collaboration? Such objectives are challenging to set, and require that leaders transcend their own organization and see the bigger picture. And then at the end of the day how do you assess and reward individual’s performance in a collaborative effort? But almost by definition aren’t all organizations a collaborative effort!

A collaborative culture, a known set of collaborative technical capabilities are a foundation. One would hope that the overall purpose and objectives of the company or organization are sufficient to encourage both willingness and the ability to collaborate, especially these days when achieving this so often involves people from outside the traditional boundaries of a company in the sometimes very extended value chains.

For collaboration to flourish there needs to be a prevailing feeling that “we’re in the same boat together” !!