Not-so Flat Management?

Today’s post focuses on the main ideas contained within Chapter 14 of Management Basics for Information Professionals by Evans and Alire. The chapter begins with the assertion that younger generations are more likely to engage in teamwork based on a more inclusive, team-centred upbringing. This is an idea that I would like to return to in a few moments and to discuss in relation to a social media generation.

However, before I do that, it is important to give an outline of Evans and Alire’s position in this essay. They put forward the argument that teamwork is more productive and effective than traditional management styles, so long as the teamwork is organised and set up effectively. This means that a clear goal needs to be established at the beginning of the task by an external team manager; that team members need to be then selected according to their skills, attitudes towards team work and their personal characteristics; once the team is selected, they then need to undergo some training to ensure that they communicate effectively, that they give feedback in an open, honest and transparent way, that they understand the concepts of accountability and empowerment, and finally that they are prepared to collaborate effectively within a team rewards system.

I am not going to go into the chapter details any further, but part of the argument is that this kind of structure should see traditional top-down management being replaced by a ‘flat’ system in which people collaborate on collective goals. However, I can’t help but to think that the model outlined by Evans and Alire is not so flat after all. I mean, it seems to me that there is a lot of management and organisation required to set up a team project. I would argue that their model is certainly ‘flatter’ than traditional models, but it is still highly structured and systematic at the same time, perhaps representing a more tightly packed hierarchy rather than an actual flat system. I am not altogether sure that a truly flat system is possible within an institution in that institutions rely quite heavily on pre-established rules and regulations.

Of course, as someone who is interested in postmodernism, I do believe that a flat system works best, but one in which true autonomy is granted to a group. This can perhaps only really happen with a new start-up company in which the parameters have not already been set; I believe there are many tech companies that qualify, as well as the open source movement. Teams within institutions are always working within certain parameters. Institutions can of course change the rules a little, but they never throw the rule book away. I don’t disagree with Evans and Alire. Their model certainly would work best within an already structured organisation, hence the need for so much planning and organising of human resources. Their essay needs to be considered within this context rather than seen as a truly flat model. However it is assessed, Evans and Alire’s model still retains an external manager who in turn may well be subordinate to a top-level manager also. Hierarchy still exists and the external manager is still responsible. If the team fails, then there will be questions as to whether or not it was set up effectively. The team of course will always be aware of this and so will, perhaps, not be as accountable as the external manager may like. It is a flatter hierarchy, but a hierarchy all the same.

taylorism

 

I would like now to return to the idea that younger generations are more prone to succeed at teamwork than their older counterparts. Younger generations certainly are more comfortable with the idea of community if we consider the range of social media that they/we (I am 33, do I count!?) engage with. But at the same time, is this really community? And does such social network community really prepare people for collaborative efforts?

Social media definitely does help people to connect, and does so while increasing cultural sensitivity and inclusiveness. But then again, think about the nature of social media. Most sites (twitter, Instagram, WordPress, etc.) are set up for people to become followers. Even Facebook’s ‘friends’ does not truly mimic a professional team in that you very often, within an organisation, do not get to choose your team. Is this model really conducive to being part of a team? I believe that Evans and Alire are promoting a team within which people do not simply follow, but who become co-leaders in the completing of a task. Social media ventures usually have people only engaging on a superficial, surface level. These platforms really lack the depth of personality that is required for effective teamwork.

I accept that Evans and Alire did not mention social media in their examples, but it is interesting to consider whether or not, as social media becomes more and more apart of how we connect, whether it is fostering individual innovation and responsibility, or whether it is simply another part of the ‘brain-drain’ of technology.

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