Making your organization more collaborative

Vegard Kolbjørnsrud

Collaborative organizations are taking on the world. How do we design collaborative and agile organizations?

KNOWLEDGE @ BI: Collaborative Organizations

Bossless Valve develops the leading online gaming platform, Wikipedia has redefined how encyclopedias are made and used, and even the former archetypical hierarchy—the military—is reshaping its operations according to network-centric warfare principles.

Collaborative organizations are taking on the world. Reports of agile, open, and self-governing enterprises abound – and it’s not only nimble startups.

Driven by necessity and opportunity

We are currently seeing a move towards collaborative organizational forms across broad sectors of the economy which is driven both by necessity and opportunity. 

  • First, many organizations face increasing pressure to innovate and adapt.
  • Second, in the long run all routine work will be automated leaving mainly complex and creative problem solving, social interaction, and judgment work for humans, increasing the need collaborative organizations.
  • Third, technologies for communication, knowledge sharing, and exchange increase the collaborative potential in contemporary and future organizations.

Making sense of collaborative organizations

This development has triggered renewed interest in studying collaborative organizational forms. But there is a need to make sense of them. Are they, as some claim, just new hybrids—or combinations—of the well-known market and hierarchy forms or are they something genuinely different?

And if so, what are their distinctive traits and how do we design such organizations?

In the new article, “Collaborative organizational forms: on communities, crowds, and new hybrids” I define collaborative organizations as communities and community-based hybrids.

Think of the map of organizational form as a triangle where the corners represent the three ideal forms, hierarchies, markets, and communities, with hybrids in between. We find collaborative organizational forms in the community end of the triangle.

So what does a community look like? I use Open Source Drug Discovery (OSDD), Accenture, and TopCoder as examples. In communities, participants collaborate to achieve shared goals and in the process they develop, use, and manage shared resources.

Allowing self-organizing

Shared values and rules combined with extensive transparency allows them to self-organize. This contrasts with how ideal-type hierarchies and markets operate. In hierarchies, managers work to align employees’ goals with those of the owners and they employ the organization’s resources to do so. Work is assigned and controlled by using managerial authority. Market actors pursue their own goals independently and the market allocates resources via the price mechanism.

Three principles for collaborative organizations

As a practitioner you may ask: How do I make my organization more collaborative? In closing, let me highlight three important principles:

  1. Focus on what brings you together – the shared goals, values, and resources. Shared vision and broad goals provide direction, but leave ample room for participants to innovate.
  2. Design the organization around some shared, simple rules rather than a fixed organizational structure. Simple rules guide interaction and improvisation—much like rules of the game in team sports—without micro-managing every action.
  3. Finally, make openness the standard, and secrecy the exception. Openness and transparency allows participants to discover problems, people, resources, and solutions across and beyond the organization. As well as people tend to behave when everything they do is visible to everyone.

Vegard Kolbjørnsrud (2018): Collaborative organizational forms: on communities, crowds, and new hybrids. Journal of Organization Design 7:11. https://jorgdesign.springeropen.com/articles/10.1186/s41469-018-0036-3

Published 25. February 2019

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