Jul 10, 2006

The promise of web 2.0 - True Organizational Development?

The goals of OD in the the last century were to make workplaces more open transparent and honest. The focus was on generating authentic and non-threatening conversations. About creating workplaces where people were not merely 'resources' or 'talent'.

Sure 'empowerment' was the oft-abused mantra that fell out of favor from organizational life in the 80s. Ditto with 'self-managed teams'. However, the overall culture of organizational life never let these concepts come to fruition. Most organizations were and still are, places where your goals are set by others, your performance is judged by others, and your rewards are measured by others. Very often, these 'others' are either one person, or a group of people who are in no way answerable to you about there decisions.

While management gurus from Drucker to Sumantra Ghoshal have trumpeted the cause of the 'knowledge worker' or 'the individualised corporation', demands of Wall Street have ensured that organizations focus more on short term goals than long term rewards.

However, web 2.0 applications are churning the battle of organizational change by employing technologies whose leitmotifs are openness, transparency, and which reward authenticity.

What's the difference?

Earlier OD had tools and technologies which were group-based and needed buy-in of the top and all in the group to succeed.

Today's tools focus on the individual and are being driven from bottom up.

The sceptics are not being co-opted into the change effort underway. The wave of openness is however forcing them to change. Blogs, wikis and tools that help people create and connect are making it easier for free agents to network, mimicking large organizations, while the drive for innovation is forcing organizations to unblock the potential of their employees. People are also looking at their purpose, gifts and passion (hat-tip Dave Pollard) and their own awareness about themselves is on the rise.

How will organizations react? I am not sure, but as I keep thinking, modern organizations need to move into the post-modernistic phase of looking at the parts and the power of the pieces of the parts ! Read related stuff at Terrence's blog here

More later...

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  1. Hey GG,
    I just blogged about this yesterday:


    We must be on the same wavelength!

    I am intrigued by the linkage to OD because, as I see it, most OD folks wouldn't know a blog or a wiki from a sewing machine. Hopefully that will change...



  2. Gautam,
    Saw this post referenced on Successful Blogs by Liz Strauss. I posted a comment on her blog about how Web 2.0 is making possible connections like this--I would have never heard of you 5 years ago. While WEB 2.0 offers great promise, I believe a lot of U.S. companies are way behind in using the technology to open up communication within their organizations. Blame much of this on the fear of IT departments related to security, etc.

    Also I think control issues play into this with some senior and mid level managers fearing the loss of control over information which equates to power (if you control the information) in many organizations. Trust is also a big issue or the lack there of, around deploying new technology.

    As with anything, using OD technology or tools can be helpful, however there is no magic fairy dust. We can offer assistance with our understanding of OD and technology.

  3. www.goldenbeggar.com
    A new web 2.0 company

  4. Hi GG,
    I agree with Terry that this is more about changes in power structures due to information sharing, than about OD.
    A related thought is that, (as I've tweeted), the most topical example that comes to my mind, is the current discomfiture around 'Minister Twitter' in the political party in power.