The Price Tag of the High Performance Workplace

I’ve been involved with a number of firms who are actively engaged in creating what they call “high performance” or “collaborative” workplaces. What I’m seeing is disturbing.

I believe they are setting themselves up to fail — and to discredit collaboration in the process. Not, I hasten to add, that that is their intention, but it is likely to be their outcome.

Many organizations believe that simply putting the collaboration tools in will cause a collaborative culture to grow. It does — but only up to a point.

You can grow an active forum culture, handling questions, for instance, without too much direction (so long as the initial few participants understand what “good behaviour” looks like).

You can create a blog community by having a few active writers.

You probably, on the other hand, need to take more active steps to make a wiki into a productive tool: most people find the “virtually blank screen” aspect immobilizing. (The lack of structure through not being “form” or “document” based doesn’t help, either.)

Social networks will probably be sparsely populated with information until the culture shifts to not hold personal information against people.

But the cultural shift that’s required goes far deeper.

Most organizations are abysmally slow at decision-making. A collaborative environment, on the other hand, works at a much faster pace.

Decision-making must therefore step up its pace as well.

In an organization (and I’ve seen many of these) where the typical manager is triple-booked, and has their first “open” window three weeks or more away, decisions will almost necessarily be rendered slowly. Too slowly, in fact, to sustain the collaborative impulse.

What this says to me is that an investment in management support must come along with any attempt to create a collaborative or high performance workplace.

In essence, managers must be retrained to work in this environment, changing every hidden assumption they have about the pace of events.

A failure to do so will make the most active participants quickly turn off.

Here are just a few of the things that must be worked out to truly create a high performance, collaborative work environment:

  • Decisions: these must be rendered quickly. This leaves less time for analysis and study. Negative responses must be accompanied by reasons for declining to proceed.
Time: managers need to spend more time with their people (and less in formal meetings) in order to offer guidance and insight — priming the pump, so to speak. They also need to have some free time available each day both to participate in the collaborative environment themselves, and to be available for ad hoc discussions.

  • Vision: to make decisions quickly, the manager must have a vision of what he or she is working toward. This goes beyond the company’s vision, mission, goals and objectives and into their own agenda for the area they are responsible for. Without this, their decisions will misallocate resources.

  • Money: the organization must return spending authority to managers. Budgets need to be held and available at the lowest levels (this is the principle of subsidiarity, and is essential to being able to render decisions). In addition each such budget needs some funds open for use in mid-year that were not pre-planned. This needn’t be much — a few percent at most — but the ability to respond to an opportunity must be present.

  • Openness: collaborative work places are built on trust, which in turn is built on open communication. Most people we meet in organizations have spent years not being fully open at work. Changing this will require effort.

Yes, there is much that must be changed to make this sort of work world blossom.

Ignoring these, or dismissing them as “HR issues”, won’t get the job done.

If you are on the team deploying the tools, make sure these sorts of issues are attended to, in order to have a successful and sustainable future.

Wednesday April 25, 6 pm Pacific / 9 pm Eastern / 1 am GMT: Join CBS Radio’s Al Cole and Bruce Stewart in an open forum on community building. We’ll take questions and discuss capitalizing community projects, forming community groups, and rethinking community education. It’s an hour you won’t want to miss. Registration is $9.95 and is done through this link, where you’ll be provided with the phone number (US-based) to dial in on the 25th. Hope to see you there!


About passionateobserver

I am a passionate observer of our society, the economy, and politics. Mostly I don't like much of what I see, so I write as a concerned citizen. To the fray, I bring a background in the philosophy of history, a lifetime's reading, a work history in information technology management, consulting and education.
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