You don't want to go out and make a radical change in your organizational structure to create a peer-based organization. This will damage all the informal but efficient networks that employees already have put together, ones that you'll want to leverage. It will also create tremendous resistance. By creating a peer-based organization without disrupting work or informal relationships, you gain credibility and momentum. However, if you do not genuinely share decision-making power and authority, you will not gain the passion and participation of your employees .

Three management vehicles are needed to begin a peer-based organization:

  • Peer-based leadership councils ”decision-making and cross-functional bodies of peers

  • Task forces ” teams chartered by the peer councils

  • Senior executives ”in the short term , the traditional management positions in the hierarchical organization

Let's look at each in turn .

Peer-Based Leadership Councils

Using the functions of management as a guide, we need to charter councils as either formal or informal review and decision-making bodies of cross-functional, cross-rank participants. Councils are formed , then, by bringing together people from every rank and department of the organization. Councils tap into the intelligence that exists throughout the company at every level. They require the involvement of all individuals, regardless of reporting structure. In a council, there is no rank; everyone comes together as peers ”from the CEO to the front-line worker. Giving all participants input into decision making allows the best possible decisions to be made. Networks of councils will start to replace individuals and individual positions as key centers of authority and decision-making power.

The form of peer leadership councils itself capitalizes on the heart and intelligence of all employees. The more individual employees participate in decision making, the more their energy and dedication are enlisted. Given a share in business deliberations, individual employees expand their range of interests beyond narrow self-calculation to include a disciplined concern for the well-being of the whole organization. Unfortunately, today's predominantly rank-based hierarchical companies discourage the average individual's participation in decision making and so miss out on the wisdom and insight that exist at lower levels of the rank-based organization.

Task Forces

Peter Drucker, in his essay for the Harvard Business Review (1998), said of the coming organization, "Work will be done by specialists brought together in task forces that cut across traditional departments" (1). In hierarchical, rank-based organizations the design is typically functionally organized departments and interdepartmental teams all under the direction of rank-based leaders . The design for the new company, the peer-based organization, includes cross-departmental councils and task forces organized around customer needs and wants. They will all be under the direction of peer leadership councils composed of employees from every level and department of the organization. The task forces are responsible for doing the work, making task and process decisions directly affecting their work, and essentially executing the organizational strategy in contact with operational issues and customers.

They are chartered by the peer councils to carry out the crucial organizational tasks within the delivery of an organization's product and/or services to all stakeholders. There are many excellent books on building successful teams, so I will not elaborate on the dynamics of teams, or, as I am calling them following Drucker's lead, task forces. What I am describing instead are methods to allow these councils to operate more fully and effectively, freed from the constraints of rank-based thinking. Of course, what has been said to this point changes the role of all rank-based, hierarchical positions of leadership and especially that of senior executives. The major responsibilities of senior executives and other rank-based managers now include consulting, mentoring, questioning, and, by rotating through the councils and task forces, cross-fertilizing ideas and best practices. The peer councils' responsibilities include teaching and training the task forces they charter to do the work.

Senior Executives

In a peer-based organization, the former rank-based executives and managers, now as senior "leaders", perform four key functions. These new functions place them primarily in an advisory role to the organization, where their experience and knowledge can be best utilized.

  • Setting the general direction of the organization. Senior executives oversee the company's strategic vision, values, and core competencies and advise all peer councils. They serve as a resource to the councils, functioning as teachers of corporate culture and values and as guardians of the organization's goals and vision. They create and manage the boundaries and link the councils together.

  • Acting as consultants to the councils and task forces. Senior executives mentor the peer councils and task forces, sharing ideas, cross-fertilizing best practices, and helping to coordinate efforts. As they rotate through the different councils and task forces practicing peer-based thinking, they are uniquely positioned to generate energy flow within the company, leading to increased creativity and innovation. They allow the councils and task forces to make the decisions and to do the work.

  • Ensuring that the right questions are asked. Senior executives do not monopolize decision making; in fact, most decisions are made in the councils and task forces. They are not the central authority, because there isn't one. They do need to measure progress and hold councils accountable for meeting their objectives. They let the councils know when they are off course and assist them in maintaining alignment with the whole. They do this by asking the right questions. They understand that power is not control and coercion, which only creates compliance and dependence, but rather influence, which generates commitment and interdependence .

  • Setting the conditions and providing the context for the task forces to be successful and to innovate. The senior executives must teach the assumptions, logic, and practices of peer-based thinking to all members of the organization. The key to helping people to act properly is not values training, where you try to teach good habits or business ethics. The key is context. Create the context and conditions where people's better habits will emerge naturally. Design systems that encourage people to cooperate by creating the networks of councils and task forces as described.

Warning About Outside Experts

One practice to question carefully is the wholesale importing of outside consultants ”with their myriad models and strategies ”into the organization. Relying on consultants is a function of the myth of leadership. It is believing that not enough intellectual capital exists already in the company to successfully meet its challenges ”when in fact the abilities and skills of most employees in companies are woefully underutilized , again due to the false assumptions of the myth of leadership. Further, adding to the lack of appreciation and underutilization of current employees is the hierarchical structure, which does not easily facilitate exchange of information and sharing of brain power.

In the process of mentoring and consulting with the peer councils and task forces in the open , generative environment of the peer-based organization, executives discover that the best strategies and models are home grown. As General George Patton (1949) said in his autobiography, "Never tell people how to do things. Tell them what to do, and they will surprise you with their ingenuity" (357). Further, now that senior executives have the key responsibility of being the consultants to the organization, there will be only the exceptional need to bring in outside consultants. When you trust your people and seek to consult them, not control them, and when you trust the intellectual capital already in the organization and do not import advice, then you are cooperating with the self-organizing dynamic in organizations. An outline of this division of labor between senior executives, peer councils, and task forces is shown in table 6.


Senior Executives

Peer Councils

Task Forces

Set the general purpose and objectives of the organization.

Clarify the organizational purpose via strategizing and prioritizing.

Make task and process decisions.

Serve as consultants to the councils and task forces.

Clarify the organization's objectives via goal setting.

Do the work; perform from self ”motivation.

Ensure that the right questions are asked.

Marshal and allocate resources.

Execute the organizational strategy at each level.

Set the conditions and provide the context for the councils and task forces to be successful and to innovate.

Charter, organize, and deploy task forces.


Hold the task forces accountable via monitoring and tracking.


Coach and mentor the task forces.


Validate the task forces' decisions.


Develop people.


People will productively work together and cooperate when they share common goals, receive proper information, develop the skill sets, and are able to recognize, utilize, and balance each other's strengths and weaknesses. This is the effect of the peer leadership councils in a peer-based organization. Still, you need to think about where the peer councils are chartered and in what management areas. It is clear that where before the senior executives made most of the key decisions and then had them carried out by the managers beneath them, now the peer leadership councils make the key decisions mentored by the senior executives and carried out by the task forces ”which are always accountable to the peer councils.

The Myth of Leadership. Creating Leaderless Organizations
The Myth of Leadership: Creating Leaderless Organizations
ISBN: 0891061991
EAN: 2147483647
Year: 2004
Pages: 98

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