A peer-based organization, through its council model of decision making, generates more strategic, functional, tactical, and operational options for the organization. It has a greater ability to be flexible and respond in a more timely manner to changing market conditions. And it has a higher tolerance for ambiguity and uncertainty. Overall, an organization of peers brings out the best habits of all its employees .
Recently, I worked with a company whose young founder and president was sincerely committed to creating a peer-based organization. He invited me to come in and introduce the Strategy Diamond model along with some key training to improve decision-making and communication skills. As could be expected, the rank-and-file employees were very enthusiastic about the opportunity to participate in decision making as peers, while the senior executives ”with the exception of the young president ”were somewhat skeptical.
When I present the two paradigms of rank-based thinking and peer-based thinking, people recognize immediately what I'm talking about. They all have horror stories to tell about rank-based leaders who are great believers in the myth of leadership. Most appreciate hearing about the inevitable negative consequences of rank-based management and are inspired by the possibility of peer-based organizations. However, often they are not quite certain it will work.
We chartered the four key councils ”the strategy council, the functional council, the tactical council, and the operational council ”and each council chose its own facilitator. Because the company was small enough, each employee was able to be a member of each council. They were truly peer councils, as the founder and president participated as a peer, not the Big Chief. There was immediate enthusiasm within the company and a great sense of empowerment.
I mentored the first few council meetings and was excited by the participation and sharing of ideas from all council members . Even after the meetings, the cross-fertilization of ideas and conversation continued . During the first few weeks, I delivered training to the council facilitators on meeting management and consensus decision making. They in turn taught their councils. We planned further training in creative problem solving, conflict resolution, and communication so that each person in the organization would be able to develop his or her own skills and contribute as an equal partner in organizational decision making.
As I spoke with different employees, they shared similar feelings and experiences. They all felt more creative on the job, as well as more focused on their company's business model. The peer-based leadership councils had enabled them together to better clarify their organizational purpose, what was working, and what was not working. This gave them all a sense of ownership in the results of the company ”a great motivation for finding ways individually and collectively to increase productivity and decrease expenses.
Practically speaking, what can people at different levels of a company do to help create a more peer-based organization? Whatever their level of responsibility, they can view their work from the perspective of strategy, tactics, operations, and people. They can then charter within their own team, department, division, or shop the peer councils made up of their direct reports and begin to operate like a peer-based organization in miniature . Each of these peer-based councils will have the responsibilities described above.