The Opportunities and Challenges of Networked Workers

This is a late posting for Week 5 so my apologies to the readers but I have been dealing with a medical challenge these past several weeks. I am feeling better now and hopefully my recovery will keep trending upward.

A reoccurring theme that stood out for me this week as I reviewed the readings and videos is how organizations are restructuring themselves to benefit from distributed leadership and networked employees with the unintended consequences of increasing trust throughout the organization and further strengthening strategic thinking and innovation processes. While some organizations are making conscious efforts to encourage the networking of employees, I think we have already passed the tipping point in that workers, especially younger workers are already connected and expect the same small group dynamics and loose interactions at their place of employment. So change is being forced upon the organization since most networked employees desire that the boss or supervisor act more in the role of facilitator and/or supporter rather than providing yes/no decisions or worse, micromanaging.

As illustrated by Weinberger (2011) in Too Big to Know the Army and especially the Marines have been emphasizing for many years the use of distributive or empowering leadership in ways that are proven successful in coping with changes (both expected and unexpected) across a range of industries and organizational types. Rainie’s (2013) slideshow also provides examples and the pros and cons of networked individuals or small teams in not only discovering the need for problem solving but also being nimble in devising the best ways to overcome challenges in implementing change. Weinberger’s (2011) application of distributive leadership can also be seen in the transition of traditional industries such as mine in their development of an on-line presence and the challenges these organizations face when allowing and/or encouraging employees to become networked. Primarily, there is a tendency for breakdowns in forward thinking, communication, and deliberate action when great numbers of people (dispersed leadership) try to make the switch to becoming networked enterprises. I believe Weinberger (2011) is correct since when organizations attempt to become networked enterprises without first changing their management mindset, it seems the biggest obstacle they encounter is a lack of far reaching mindfulness and the leaders usually set either easy to attain goals or goals that are so undefined that they are impossible to achieve, all of which are hallmarks of dispersed leadership.

One of the strengths of distributive leadership is the flexibility of small groups and their leaders, whether formal or informal to adapt to both group dynamics and situations. Another feature of distributive leadership that is applicable to innovation in the examples provided by Jarche (2013) is that decentralized leadership, when properly implemented, can boost team morale and performance when situations allow/encourage any group member to assume a leadership role based on context, situation, and/or the task the small group is addressing. I can see this approach taking fruit in the Betacodex approach to management as offered by Jarche (2013) in the comments section of his article.  Concepts such as the Betacodex can complement distributive leadership and be successful for networked individuals and organizations since connected employees and small group members share responsibility for scanning the environment, sharing information, and engaging in mutually informed assessments while keeping the supervisor or ‘decision maker’ on the periphery and non-intrusive. Ben Hammer

References:

Jarche, H. (2013, November 5). Networks are the new companies. [Blog]. Retrieved from http://jarche.com/2013/11/networks-are-the-new-companies/

Rainie, L. (2013, November 8). Networked worlds and networked enterprises. Retrieved from http://www.slideshare.net/PewInternet/networked-worlds-and-networked-enterprises

Weinberger, D. (2011). Too big to know: Rethinking knowledge now that the facts aren’t the facts, experts are everywhere, and the smartest person in the room is the room. New York: Basic Books.

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