Chaos Control Collaboration

TED 2011 - Eric Whitacre ©Suzie Katz #2521Nature may abhor a vacuum, but management abhors chaos.  And middle managers cling to control as if it is the only thing standing between them and perdition.

Winning the middle” is the strategy that targets those middle managers who sometimes seem so fearful of social media tools behind the firewall.  To be fair, they may well have a legitimate concern of being sidelined by technology that allows their subordinates to communicate directly to people in other departments or even to senior management.   (See that specter of chaos?)  One solution suggested by some is to suppress all mention of “social,” referring instead to Enterprise 2.0 or “Modern Communications Infrastructure.”  That may help overcome initial concerns that social media will lead to delinquency at work, but I doubt it will help middle managers truly understand the potential of these new tools.  To do that, you have to give them an understanding of the value of that potential — a value big enough to outweigh their fears.

To expand the horizons of a manager who is petrified of losing control, try offering an example that shows a wonderful blend of individual autonomy subject to light control (voluntarily accepted) leading to fruitful collaboration.  In case you don’t have plenty of examples of this phenomenon handy, may I propose the following:  spend a few minutes with Eric Whitacre and his extraordinary virtual choirs. (See video)

Here you have people around the world who voluntarily contributed their time and talents in a collaborative creative effort.  They avoided complete chaos by agreeing to work within a shared governance structure — in this case, Eric Whitacre’s score — and time frame.  And, they accepted Mr. Whitacre’s leadership for the project — leadership that imposed a very light (but critical) measure of control with a judicious hand.  What makes it all work?  The talent of the musicians and the “magic” of technology.  In the first virtual choir, the organizers took the homemade video recordings of 185 singers from 12 countries and created an cohesive, beautiful whole.  In the second virtual choir, they combined 2052 singers from 58 countries. Technology allowed these musicians to work separately but yet together, to produce something that would be difficult to create without social media.

Now, think about what a model like this could mean for your organization.  Do you have work teams that are spread around the globe? Do your subject matter experts need to reach outside their traditional silos?  Imagine them working across geographies, disciplines and business units via a common platform that allows them to share information, learn and collaborate without travel.

Opening a world of new possibilities is one result of good technology deployed well.  What possibilities could you unearth if you and your colleagues were able to use Enterprise 2.0 technology to help you work as if you were part of a talented virtual choir?


Lux Aurumque:


[Photo Credit: Suzie Katz]