Getting rid of unproductive shadow organizations

Summary : enterprises will have to improve their organizational and management. Projects, pilots, initiatives are multiplying to experiment, learn, understand. But what is the right duration for sandbox ? The common answer is that it should take the time it needs but there’s a risk that’s growing with time. Many projects do nothing but creating shadow organizations inside enterprises, organizations that sometimes compete the one with the other and often with the official one. In the end, no one wins in such zero-sum games when they last too longs : enterprise see their immediate performance decreasing, projects fail at delivering their promise and employees lose their motivation. It’s essential that, at a given moment, enterprises align themselves with the projects they launched if they don’t want to loose everything.
If there’s a consensus on the fact today’s organization are far from being efficient and that things aren’t improving over time,  it does not go further. To some extent, we can say there’s a convergence on the future model but not on the way to get to it. Top-down, bottom-up, both, in an interventionist or optional way, evolution or revolution model… It would seem that all roads lead to Roma…let’s hope that’s true. But it seem logic : on people-centric project (people as a matter, a lever and a target) it’s impossible to overlook the past, culture etc..

To make it short, “push organizations” are dying, welcome to “pull” ones. Consequence : the largest part of what we call management is to make it difficult for people to work (these are not my words but Peter Drucker’s one…and I fully subscribe to that). This leads to the need of reversing the pyramids and to do it in an efficient and productive way. It reminds me of an anecdote taken from Vineet Nayar’s experience. At the beginning he set up the first elements of an organization designed to serve those who actually create value, then he realized the limits of his approach. Everything that was being implemented was applying and relying on the existing model, systems and processes, designed to be top-down. Hence a new approach aiming at building, step by step, a new coherent model aligned with its goals instead of a poultice on a wooden leg.

Now, let’s have a quick look at many enterprise 2.0 or social business projects. In how many cases did they come with process re-engineering ? With a reflexion on how to trace how value is created ? On how things and people are measured, evaluated, assessed ? Of course, that’s still a young and emerging matter. But, as I recently heard from two people that can be considered as convinced people, advocates, project ambassadors : “it’s been young and emerging for such a long time that it’s getting old now !”, “Ok for chaotic experimentations but we’ve been trying so many things in so many ways in so many directions for 5 years and the people ‘above’ haven’t understand that it’s time to blow the end of game whistle and make things square”, “Honestly, I’m about to give up the fight…I’ve been knocked about too many times for no benefits…and they still don’t get the thing”.

What were they talking about ? They were saying that these projects were generating new structures and way of working that go against the official organization compete with it and, even experimentations that compete the one with the other.• Against the official organization : it’s easy to understand that when people are asked to act in some way…while being also ask to act in the opposite way, they are in a very uncomfortable situation. It’s hard for them, it brings problems with their colleagues and even their managers. I even don’t use the word risk… To help spreading something they believe in they put themselves in an awkward position, to things twice (one to please everyone), change the way they behave and interact depending on the person they’re with. Then, of course, making managers aware should make things easier. But, as a manager told me recently “I believe in these new forms or organization, in these new models, but since I’m myself asked to deliver such things with my staff, I have to tell them to use their time in a given way. Ok, I know what it’s about, I understand and will support the change as long as I can, but if you want me to change the way I’ll manage and measure my staff, then change the way I’m managed and measure myself”.

• Competition between systems and projects :it’s not about a head-on opposition of authority, information and work as in the previous paragraph but it’s not better. There are many case of social-something projects competing inside the organization. I know an “ambassador” who’s a member of half a dozen different projects and internal platforms. Even if he’s really convinced that it’s the future, he gave up  until a choice is make to choose one single tool and lead project or make it all interoperable. Most of all, if having too many tools is a real burden, there’s also an attention problem. Being a pioneer means spending a lot of energy, of time, and having to pay attention to too many things in addition to one’s work is tough for average employees.

Not only such situations arm the global performance but are a danger for the projects in question. In the end, the enterprise wastes energy while the projects in question fail are demonstrating anything. In a zero-sum game where everyone stays on the middle of the ford, there are only losers.

But this trend seems to be there for a long time. Either because the new organization was designed “against” the existing one, rather in reject than for operation improvement purposes, either by lack of support, courage or means. A good example is what I call community blindness.

Communities used to be the Trojan of change…and still are. They have the advantage, if we stick to a strict definition, to rely on voluntary membership and be disconnected from execution, what prevents from having to put one’s hand in what matters to change it. It operates in a way that’s the opposite of the traditional hierarchical top-down corporate organization what pleases the Woodsockian part of some people. For what results ? Few results in proportion with the effort because what’s peculiar to communities is that they leave the rest as it was. Of course, changing processes is too touchy and the “P” word is even considered as too dirty in an ideal people-centric organization. In the end, communities are losing their credibility step by step while they are a wonderful tool when used advisedly. Fortunately, some begin to understand that they’d better let communities be communities and start working the structure and systems in which they operate. Cisco won’t disagree…

In short, tomorrow’s organization will be agile, LEAN in some ways. They will remove constraints instead of adding new ones. They’ll combine things more efficiently instead of adding new layers. Not sure they’ll get to this level by crowding themselves with shadow organizations that play agains their mother company. Of course I’m not saying that these projects have to be dismantled but that the organization that wanted and initiated them draws all the conclusions from early stage pilots and makes clear choices. A moment often comes when the enterprise has to align itself with the goal it pursues through these initiatives and gather all the energies to play one only and same game.




Head of People and Business Delivery @Emakina / Former consulting director / Crossroads of people, business and technology / Speaker / Compulsive traveler
Head of People and Business Delivery @Emakina / Former consulting director / Crossroads of people, business and technology / Speaker / Compulsive traveler

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