Moving Toward an Egalitarian Work PlaceDecember 21st, 2010 at 16:01
In everything I write and everything I do I am all about calling out and promoting our societal transition from hierarchical to more egalitarian institutions and practices. I do not stop in these efforts at my workplace, and am pleased to report that my work environment has a lot of egalitarian features, thanks to the efforts of my boss, many of my co-workers and myself. Following up on my piece from back in July, “Much More and Much Less than a Boss”, I want to call out some of the aspects of that effort.
Focusing on Making Others Successful
I approach my work now with a total focus on doing whatever I can do to make my teammates and my internal “customers” successful. I even explicitly ask this now of my boss or my co-workers when I am brought in to a new project effort.
As one of the older (chronologically at least) members of the team, I feel I play an important role modeling this sort of behavior, particularly for our newer or younger team members who may be used to more hierarchical and perhaps more ego-involved work environments.
Following Good Egalitarian Meeting Process
In meetings that I lead (which are generally conference calls rather than face to face) I always follow principles that enhance the “circle of equals” context with me as “peer facilitator”, and maximize the effectiveness of meetings including…
1. Facilitating with a humility that I have been ceded this role by the other meeting participants and that in return I will do my best to keep the meeting as short as possible, on topic, and through the complete meeting agenda if possible.
2. Encouraging everyone’s active participation, including doing “go-rounds” where you do a roll-call for everyone on the call to speak briefly to the agenda item at issues, and taking items of contention (particularly between a subset of the meeting participants) “off-line” to be discussed further in another venue.
3. Not using my position as the meeting chair to pass judgment on the other participants or wield an authority over them, other than assertively keeping the meeting on agenda if necessary.
Everybody has their horror stories about meetings that seem to go on forever with people seeming to talk on just to hear themselves speak. In contrast to that, I have found that a well run meeting, that allows everyone to speak (briefly) but is moved crisply through its agenda by the facilitator, can instead energize the meeting participants.
I am happy to see that my boss follows similar principles, while my co-workers have varying skill levels in this area. When my co-workers participate in a meeting that I am leading, I have an opportunity to model it for them.
Moving Beyond Competition
I am blessed to be in a work environment where we are not judged on how we do relative to each other but how we do in collaboration with each other. It’s not about me, about my ego, or my stature relative to others within the organization. My teammates and boss approach their participation the same way.
And our boss does his part by not playing favorites, and by focusing on actions and behavior (rather than the people taking those actions or exhibiting those behaviors) when calling out his thoughts on areas that need improvement.
Shifting the Ownership to Internal Customers
Since our team provides services to our internal sales and marketing departments (our “customers” as it were), part of the whole facilitative egalitarian thing is to empower our internal customers to direct the efforts on their own behalf rather than us “experts” telling them what they need. Since in the real world they don’t always know what they need it turns into more of a partnership, where we jointly develop new business processes and the updated systems that support those processes.
Managers as Resources not Order-Givers
This is the reality of “turning the org chart upside down”, something I have read or heard for more than a decade in books and seminars on the latest trends in management. In my opinion, it is evidence “on the ground” of the humble beginnings of a larger cultural transition from patriarchy to partnership, from hierarchy to a circle of equals. This is all about empowering the “worker bees” to make decisions and proactively address issues rather than the traditional “command and control” directive management of people “underneath” you on the org chart. Your managers and directors are there to escalate the issues that are beyond your scope to address, or provide backup when you need it.
In my life… I frame my efforts, whether at my workplace, the volunteer work I do in the community, or with my kids as a parent, as one small step toward dismantling a 5000-year-old hierarchical superstructure for society that has become archaic and is now holding us back from fully moving forward in this third millennium of the Common Era. (See my posts, “The Chalice and the Blade” and “Challenging Patriarchy”.)