#e20s Hackathon : Principles of Leadership and Management

As part of the Enterprise 2.0 conference last week in Paris there was a Management Hackathon, addressing 2 topics : organization of the 21st century and Leadership and Management principles. 2 teams were competing to tackle each subject.

We built a team around the second topic and this is what we came out with :

The objective

45 minutes to build collaboratively a list of principles for the Leadership and Management of the 21st century organization.

The teams

I love these moments full of potential energy, when in these collaborative games people hesitate (should I participate ? which team should I join ? where should I seat ? how should I position myself ?). After a few minutes, people sat and the team settled. I’ve tried to refrain my natural drive and not stand too quickly to make our team more dynamic but I could only do so for so long (errm … less than a couple of minutes).

Soon, each person introduce her/himself and people started to feel comfortable talking to each other and contributing to the discussion. So here was our team :

Later joined by :

Needless to say : our team rocks big time. And we gave it a cool name (at the last second, though) : TheEdgeExperimenters.

The Definitions

OK so how do we start ? Elodie asked an excellent question : “Does everybody share the same definition of what we are talking about”. This is an excellent way to start such collaborative session. It allows to align the team and make sure we talk about the same thing. So we started with definitions : principles, leadership and management. I can’t remember if it’s Lao-Tse or Confucius who said something in the vicinity of “Where you are surrounded with Chaos, the thing you need the most is a dictionary”. It was not really chaos, though just the energy of something starting.

We defined Principles as key drivers, aiming to help people take the right decision, something they have to do hundreds of time a day. We agree to define these principles as verbs (OK I pushed quite a bit toward that direction, inspired by the beautiful 7 principles of Lean Software Development by Tom & Mary Poppendieck). I did my best to keep values away – values are nouns and often sound hollow and plastic.

The discussion around the distinction between Leadership and Management has been quite thrilling. We all agree that Leadership had more to do with the Why (refer to Simon Sinek Classic TED talk on the subject) while Management had more to do with the How. As anticipated, I failed to suppress my desire to quote Kotter (Management deals with operational complexity while Leadership deals with change) or Drucker (Leadership is doing the right thing and management is doing the thing right) – which get Anthony rightly upset.

The principles

I kind of succeeded in not influencing the team with both my 10 principles of Enterprise 2.0 explained to Managers or Schein’s 10 dimension of the learning organisation. Midway through, as the dynamics of the teams were taking off, I backed off a bit and Harald took the lead. Gradually, the team contribution was becoming more intense. I just love these moments of collaborative creativity : it is just magical.

So here are the six principles we came out with (as verbs) :

  1. Empower and develop people : Foster High Trust/Low Fear culture by dealing with organizational culture toward problem (opportunity to learn as opposed to chance to blame) so that people feel empowered. We don’t believe in manager-free organisations, we believe still have a role in particular in removing obstacles and grow/develop the people
  2. Walk the Talk : we believe in leadership by example (especially Harald ! though it’s Anthony who formulated it if I recall correctly). It was really nice seeing the team converging on this very strong principle. No more corporate BS day-in day-out, please stick to reality and if you want to relate to reality, well, eat your own dog food.
  3. Make it simple : The idea here is to shield the team from global complexity to help them focus on the task at hand. The idea is not to remove the complexity which is inherent to today’s business but rather to help people concentrate on the things to do by removing unnecessary complexity. Wish it was my idea (but it wasn’t) as this resonated vividly for me with this great Scott Berkun essay : the Simplifiers and the Complexifiers (available in the awesome Mindfire book, by the way). Warning : Simple requires deep thought, discipline and patience,  as 37signals stated.
  4. Drive soft and social skills : We all agree that Managers and Leaders of the 21st century organization foster extended social collaboration between the employees and between the teams. This require to work on soft and social skills. John Hagel and #hypertextual elaborated upon the importance of feminine soft skills to succeed in today’s economy. A simple hint to promote soft skills in your organisation : promote female worker whenever in doubt.
  5. Challenge the vision against permanent change : We wanted here again to express that leaders need to confront to reality not only on the shop floor but also in executives committees. The world is changing, fast, with an amplitude we’ve never witnessed before. We need our managers and leaders to make sure they take this into account when defining and assessing and implementing the vision.
  6. Experiment at the edge : one of my favorite ones, from Mark. We had many ideas converging towards the idea of fostering innovation (cross-cultural, collaboration, open environment) and we didn’t want something such as pushing the limits of thinking outside the box. Experimenting on the edge not only makes it actionable but it also proves to be a great place to innovate. We loved it so much, we named our team out of it.

We also discussed to find out which principles were relevant to leadership and which to management. We eventually agreed that they were all appropriate for both.

We made sure at the end we took an extra couple of minutes to clearly write down these principles so that during the presentation our proposal is clear. This is so exciting to bring together 10 people or so and having them work on a topic for an hour and having out of the blue a result at the end which is not quite the finished article but not far.

A close result

Some people in the team asked me to present the result. In all fairness, they didn’t really have to insist. It was great introducing the work of everybody in front of the crowd. The other team (with Céline and Hans-Juergen) did a great job as well. I am not aligned with their manager-free organisation but I liked their distributed leadership proposal – in particular their proposal on how to deal with introspects which I thought was very relevant and echoed Susan Cain TED presentation The Power of Introspects).

Judging by the vote of audience it was very close but for some reasons, Master of Ceremony Bjoern decided we were the winners. You can have a more objective perspective on the whole thing from Emanuele Quintarelli’s blog or Jon Ingham’s.

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