Un-democracy flipped

Posted by jlubans on September 05, 2012

As you know, my first step in defining the democratic workplace was to list out what it is not.
Today’s post is the flip side of the Un-democracy; it is the definition I will use in my teaching.
By flipping the negatives – for example, “closed books” becomes “open books” - I get to the positive workplace.
In my eyes, it is natural for people to cooperate. Uncooperation is the abnormal. Humans prefer – with some noted competitive exceptions – to collaborate. The democratic workplace is indeed a natural environment. It is our evolved inclination – with language - to help each other that separate us from other species. “You will never see two monkeys carrying a log” is just as true as that when most of us see someone in need we want to help. Finally, the quintessential reason for a democratic workplace is that we get better at what we do, more so than under any other scheme.

Many leaders.
(There is a head leader, but leadership is delegated and distributed throughout the organization. Workers take initiative and cross boundaries to improve services and production. Team leaders, consulting with workers, meet to set goals and iron out production needs. (The “many leaders” concept was recently discussed in the Wall Street Journal, Who's the Boss? There Isn't One.))
De-centralized power.
(Workers make decisions about their work. Units within the organization make decisions and spend money relevant to their work in concert with other units.)
Open “books” (finances and personnel).
(No secrets. Workers see financial and personnel records and take part, as relevant, in personnel budget decisions and in the recruitment and hiring of new staff.)
Planning involves everyone.
(Workers participate in planning; they are stake-holders equal to managers. Decisions are made in a collaborative process that may include anonymous voting.)
Team-based, flat organization.
(No non-working supervisors. Team members, including team leaders, do their fair share of real work. A flat organization promotes communication across the workplace. There is a “grape vine,” but it is an informal network among workers and no longer the main source of knowing. The democratic ethos is clear: no back stabbing, differences are settled face to face.)
Many effective (independent and critical thinking and action-taking) followers.
(While some workers are less-able followers, all have the freedom and peer-expectation to move from dependent and uncritical thinking to thinking independently and to taking action.)
Managers do “real work”.
(With increased worker responsibility comes a reduction in the need for managers to supervise. Managers take part in doing what needs to be done and take the lead in thinking about trends, improvements and challenges for the organization.)
No formal performance appraisal.
(Performance appraisal is replaced by regular conversation and guidance among team members and managers. As necessary, discipline and guidance is addressed immediately by leaders or peers. Goal setting – Why are we here and what can we do better? - is a natural discussion among leaders and followers. )
Workers help define individual perks, from parking to pay.
(Workers, collaborating with managers, set fair salary levels and other compensation.)
A proactive organization.
(Most staff act like owners. They look to improve what they do; they are alert to trends, new ideas and they are free to carry out new initiatives. The organization has the highly developed capacity to anticipate change and to take on new challenges.)

There you have it. Let me know what you think.
There are, of course, some who question the advisability or feasibility of the democratic workplace. If you have doubts, you might derive comfort from an essay by Phillip J. Jones and George J. Fowler, The Limits of Democracy….
Then again, you might be thinking about how much fun it would be to work in a productive, proactive workplace instead of a hunkered-down bureaucracy.
Apart from the Wall Street Journal article linked above – with its several examples of democratic workplaces – there is another one-of-a-kind success story out of Brazil.
Leading from the Middle, of course, applies many of these democratic workplace principles at work.

And, the blog went over 200,000 hits (quien sabe?) on September 4, 2012.

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