Organisations can be tyrannical places in a sense. Very different to the world we live in outside work. In the morning we arrive at work and step into an older hierarchical world. At the end of the day we leave work and step back into our democratic lives – for those of us who live in a democracy. But are we on the brink of a new world of work?
Tyranny is a pretty strong word. I’m certainly not using it in the same sense experienced by many people in the world who still suffer under tyrannical rule and have little if any freedom. I mean the way that some managers can exercise power or control within the organisation. There’s an old world nature about it. Organisations can be very hierarchical, bureaucratic and pretty dreary for many.
Managers are in positions of power. They can hire and fire. Anyone beneath a manager in the hierarchy is subordinate to that person. The manager can control that person (to an extent). This is necessary to organise a group of people to achieve something, but the question is a degree of control versus lead.
I believe a new type of workplace is emerging. You can see it in the tech startups for example. Their people are more like partners in a sense. The culture of equity in these organisations is testament to this. A local example is Shoes of Prey. It only takes a little familiarity with their blog to understand that working at Shoes of Prey is different.
In the new world of work organisations rely less on hierarchical power and more on leadership and partnership. This change has been happening for some time now to be sure. Picture work now compared to the 50s for example. The big difference though is that in the new world people may still need to be organised to achieve things, but by having more visibility and understanding for what each is doing, they need less control. They can have more autonomy in the way about which they achieve things. People can be more like collaborators. Technology is making this possible.
Step into a government department and you might wonder if this new world could ever possibly happen though. They can be the very embodiment of bureaucracy and control. Is the new world a possibility for all or just for those who work in the likes of the tech startup? Some days I think this is possible, some days not.
History gives us some hope though. This sort of thing has happened in the past. There are a number of examples, but perhaps one stands out amongst the others. In the 6th century BCE, the Greeks brought about a new world with democracy. At the time you could have been forgiven for thinking this not possible – the Athenians lived under tyrannical rule. So how did it happen? Was it high minded thinking by great individuals? Will it take this sort of effort to bring about a new world of work and can this happen now?
The answer is that democracy and the new world came about in part because one man named Cleisthenes saw an opportunity to gain power over rivals by giving the people rights and a say in things. He may have been high minded as well, but the point is that this isn’t a requirement. To say that the people gravitated towards Cleisthenes is an understatement.
In our day, organisations like the tech startups and others are our Cleisthenes. If talented people gravitate towards new world organisations, which they surely are, great change can occur.
How long can the old world organisations last, if talent gravitates towards the places where they can be their best?
For our part, we want to help make the new world possible in 2013.