There are different types of power that can exist in both organisations and networks. From traditional hierarchical power, in which some people have power over others, to a more lateral understanding of power, in which decisions are made in a chat by the water cooler, between people across all levels of experience.
It was clear from our discussions that decision-making power should not lie with just one person or one body. But what’s interesting is that often these different types of power are at play in the same organisation or network. For example, organisations that attempt to build networks may take a traditionally hierarchical approach to their own organisation, but the networks that they create may take a more lateral approach.
Networks are about collaboration. When new connections are formed, the flow of information is less constrained and everyone has less control over it. This requires a fair distribution of decision-making power, so that everyone within the network feels that they have ownership over the projects, and that they can take personal responsibility.
Large organisations with traditional hierarchical structures primarily seek order and structure. A hierarchy allows for structured process, it allows for quick action as one person or small group has the decision-making power, and it allows for greater control.
Of course, the reality is much more complex than this. There are networks within organisations, where collaboration between different people occur under the traditional hierarchical structure. There are secret conversations and non transparent decisions, and there’s less room for interrogation of organisational practise.
There needs to be an organisational shift in order to accommodate for genuine collaboration across an organisation’s networks. Organisations that aim to create movements and networks need to work with and alongside their networks, so that bureaucracy doesn’t infringe on collaboration
Leadership in this context could look like offering a supportive rather than directive role. Rather than commanding action, a leader could create space for others - especially those who would not naturally dominate - to lean into leadership. Facilitation, coordination and acting as a catalyst are the traits of a network leader that wants to encourage the best thinking from all within the network.
This could be a scary prospect for the organisation within which the network sits. Questions arise of how to maintain control over hundreds of decision makers if power becomes decentralised. The idea of shifting power may be a difficult prospect for many organisations because it’s a shift towards losing control, but it’s also a shift towards greater trust, collaboration, and change.
There is more information about it on the presentation document and if you fancy geeking out about it even more - come along to our 'Losing Control' conference on the 5th - 6th April.
Find more details here: http://www.losingcontrol.org/
CEO at The Social Change Agency and Co-Convener of the CoP