Somewhere in my surfing today, I ran across a link to Scott Rosenburg’s post titled “[Blogs, bosses and bucks][bbb].” This caught my eye, because in my [thesis] research, I’ve been thinking about the role money and power structures have on collaboration amongst virtual teams.
In my research, I’ve been studying successful “open” collaborative communities like the Apache Software Foundation and Wikipedia, looking for “new” practices that could be applied to help virtual teams be more successful in a corporate setting. But what I’ve found is that the practices used by these organizations have, for the most part, already been widely documented in business and academic literature. These include things like have a well-defined purpose, clearly defined roles and responsiblities, recognition of achievement, etc.
It is not that these groups are doing anything drastically different, yet it does appear to be the case that good management practices seem to occur more naturally in these contexts. Why? Ultimately, I think it ties back to two key things:
- Volunteer organizations are easier to leave. Volunteers who lose interest in the project will simply move on to something else
- Criticism and alternate ideas are freely shared, because no one is afraid of losing their jobs in retaliation
I’m sure there is more to than this, but these two factors play together as well to promote strong leadership. In these organizations, leaders emerge not because the wield the power to over someone else’s paycheck, but rather based on their ability to build consensus and the value their own contributions to the project. When leadership fails in an open organization, it is obvious if not immediate. Failing projects are identified by recurring flame wars and by an inability to keep a steady, stable group of contributors involved in the project.
My point is not that leaders in volunteer organizations are better than their corporate counterparts, but rather that the role of money can mask poor leadership in an organization. Is everyone involved because they want to be? Or are they just drawing paychecks until they can find a better position somewhere else? Is the lack of debate a sign of silent agreement or fear of retailiation?
To tie this back to Scott’s article — I agree that in many organizations, the fear of being fired is going to keep people from blogging. But I would also argue that creating an environment that punishes criticism and curbs open debate can also put a company at a distinct disadvantage.
I agree with Tim Bray’s statement that companies who don’t adopt blogging will be playing “catch-up” — not because blogging itself is inherently advantageous (though it may be), but because it is an outward symptom of a company that internally values open sharing of ideas and criticism.