The change toward human freedom in business.

I just re-watched this great MIT lecture by Thomas Malone, who wrote The Future of Work in 2004 – the same year that Facebook launched.

Malone’s ‘future’ describes an organisation built on decentralised decision-making. Leadership has moved beyond ‘command and control’ to ‘coordinate and cultivate.’ Technology is a key driver.

These concepts are very much coming to bear in the organisation in 2012.

He shows an awesome video at around 35 minutes about an audience of people ‘co-piloting’ a simulated plane through a set number of targets. The point being ‘it may be possible to have much more decentralised control than we usually assume is possible. If we do that, we may be able to take advantage of much more of the true energy and potential of the people in our organisations, than today.’

This reminded me of how Yammer‘s engineering team operate today.

Small cross-functional teams made up of specialists in different areas come together to work on a particular feature. Rather than management getting involved, one of the tech people on the team is appointed the tech lead. Just like the co-pilots in Malone’s example, the engineers are participants in the definition of the things they are building, steering themselves through a number of targets rather than just having them assigned.

Vision and priorities are still controlled centrally but – unlike the traditional workflow in an engineering organisation – execution is decentralised to those closer to the ‘doing’ work.

This enables human freedom at work. Teams can continuously innovate independently.

A key tool in enabling the process has been the product itself. Yammer as an enterprise social network (ESN) enables the engineers to connect to their team, and share information necessary to make the right decision in real time.

An ESN also gives management visibility into the communication and decisions of engineers, so they can ensure everyone continues in the right direction.

Malone’s prediction that ‘technology will impact communications so much that employees will make sensible decisions for themselves instead of just following orders from someone above them, who supposedly knows more than they do, in a management hierarchy‘ is here already.

More than the technology itself, Yammer is a signifier of the change toward human freedom in business because decentralised, collaborative and self-organising values were baked in from the beginning.

As Malone says, ‘it’s the technology that makes this possible… but the thing that will actually shape how these changes will unfold over the coming decades, well you need to think more deeply about what changes are important to you.’

 

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