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What's Happening Down Under? Changing Organisational Structure To Encourage Creativity

10th Apr 2012

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“Current organisational structure has been handed down to us from the industrial revolution and hasn’t changed much over the last 150 years.” It’s time for organizational structure to change.

At a recent eClub Networking Event in Sydney’s beautifully renovated Museum of Contemporary Art building, I listened to a panel of experts discuss ‘The Future of Work.’ An admittedly ambitious title, however it was a very interesting insight into how companies such as IBM and EMC are changing how they work to maximize interaction, collaboration and creativity while challenging traditional organisational structure.

Current organisational structure has been handed down to us from the industrial revolution and has not changed much over the last 150 years. We’re ingrained with the idea of showing up for our daily grind, five days per week and making money for (insert brand here). There are businesses however, trying to challenge their bureaucratic nature with very interesting results.

Peter Hedges highlighted IBM’s ‘Jam’ sessions, streamed company-wide conferences, which gather all employees’ comments, suggestions and ideas into buckets to be sorted, categorized and acted upon. He enthused that utilizing the entire breadth and depth of employees’ expertise provided unexpected results, generating ideas that would never have been achieved in C-level executive meetings.

Clive Gold of EMC described how he believes the concept of an organisation and the structures that we build a company on to be archaic. He feels that the value an individual brings to a company should be measured by their potential to generate ideas rather than what they know or what their job title is.

Mr Gold gave an example from his organisation of an employee being challenged about spending time on Facebook during working hours. The individual in question, who was struggling to come up with a solution to a particularly challenging problem, responded by saying, “I’m hanging with my peeps, trying to figure this thing out”.

How we communicate and collaborate to solve problems is changing. We now have access to multiple networks of individuals who don’t necessarily have a vested interest in what we do, blurring the lines of who works for who. By standing on each other’s shoulders to reach a solution we can reach heights that previously were not achievable for the individual.

Some other great examples that were discussed included Google’s famous 20% Time where employees get 1/5th of their time back to work on projects of their own choosing resulting in the birth of Google News and Gmail, etc.

Atlassian have their FedEx Days where every quarter employees get the chance to work on a project relating to Atlassian’s products and deliver it within 24 hours – hence the name. Due to its success FedEx Days has spawned a number of similar initiatives in other businesses worldwide.

If ‘crowd sourcing’ or ‘company sourcing’ of ideas is a way of empowering employees and encouraging creativity does that mean job titles are becoming redundant?

Imagine a working environment where all employees work as part of a swarm towards a particular solution with only the idea generators getting the monetary recognition. It would certainly challenge the value of any end of the year performance reviews dictating bonuses.

While dropping job titles may not be feasible in reality, we are seeing more and more businesses who are out to change how they work to promote creativity.

Those companies that don’t are likely to remain stagnant, with their stunted growth and resistance to change pushing away their most ambitious workers to greener, more creative pastures and employers who will appreciate their ideas.

(A recorded live-stream of the eClub event, including the panel discussion can be found here.)