Intro self. I study how workplaces and organizations operate - how they communicate and innovate with texts and technologies. In the last 12 years, I’ve studied software developers, traffic safety workers, telecommunications workers, nonprofit grantwriters, freelance graphic designers, and analysts at a web marketing firm. And I’ve seen trends along the lines that Jon and David have discussed.
Let’s look at one case. Telecorp is a midsized telecommunications company in Texas that offers local and long distance service, dialup, and other telecommunications services. From a handful of workers in the mid 1980s, by 2001 Telecorp expanded to over 300, grouped in 20 functional groups. This explosive growth -- typical of telecomm over the last two decades -- is matched by the explosive growth in telecomm services. What this means is that Telecorp was the site of a huge influx of fields, trades, and disciplines. Turnover here, as across the entire sector, was “unreal.”
Telecorp is an example of a ground shift we’ve seen in the past few decades from traditional work organizations to knowledge work organizations. These organizational changes have been going on for a while. The Industrial Revolution led to a particular configuration of work in which long-term relationships flourished; workers held long-term or lifelong jobs, maintained steady contacts with other organizations and with the public, and built up considerable expertise. They fulfilled clearly defined roles and developed strong working relationships. These characteristics foregrounded &quot;vertical&quot; expertise (Engeström, Engeström & Kärkkäinen 1995) in which learning happened within a particular domain: a particular activity, discipline, field, or trade carried out in a particular setting.
Such organizations are organized into hierarchies. Think of the classic org chart with silos. These branched connect only at the top because that’s where the institutional leadership is. Partly that’s because information has traditionally been expensive to communicate.
But hierarchies have been destabilized - not destroyed - by many recent changes. A couple of the ones relevant to this case: Proliferating intercompany relationships. Due to regulation, Telecomms are engaged in “coopetition,” in which competing companies have to cooperate to provide seamless service. Continual reorganization. Also due to regulation, Telecomms are continually adding new products beyond POTS (call waiting, caller id, callnotes), meaning that they have to add or train people to provide them. Most importantly, the increase in telecommunications (phones, faxes, Internet connections) has made it possible to connect any point to any other, within or across organizations. One result, Nardi et al. say, is that &quot;many corporations operate in an increasingly distributed manner, with workers, contractors, consultants, and important contacts such as those in the press located in different parts of the country or across the globe&quot; (p.206; cf. Zuboff & Maxmin 2004).
So the org generates informal connections within organizations. Those informal connections run on trust. Ex: Internal job shifts, but people were still called on to mentor workers in their former positions. Ex: people in non-leadership positions in different units become informal liaisons. Ex: A manager in Provisioning counseled her trainee that a contact in the Control Center was not especially competent.
Informal connections across organizations, particularly among counterparts in &quot;coopetition&quot; sectors. Example: dialer techs at Telecorp and their main competitor, BigTel, work more closely with each other than with other units in their own organizations; shared trade, language and tools.
Informal connections across organizations that are formally unrelated. Example: Susan, a trainee, receives a call from the person who took over her previous job.
Those are just a few of many, many examples of Telecorp being interpenetrated: anyone can link up with anyone else inside or outside the organization, and consequently any work activities can be intersected -- or reconstituted. There are no necessary boundaries. I saw this a lot at Telecorp, in a lot of different ways. In this environment, traditional leadership (within functional areas or branches) was supplemented with emergent leadership, in which people with no formal hierarchy (or training) developed project-oriented relations. In the absence of formal hierarchy, in a fast-moving interconnected environment, skills such as time management, informal networking, and persuasion became critical.
Let’s skip to the other end of the spectrum. Graphic designers used to be anchored to larger organizations because only organizations could afford to buy and maintain their equipment. Now, the GD studio has shrunk to a laptop, broadband, and mobile phone. Last summer, Gail Bayeta (ACC) and I studied two GD companies in Austin - a sole proprietor and a partnership - specializing in B2B GD work. Both firms operated out of the house (sole proprietorship, partnership). Both firms projected the image of larger firms, but they had to subcontract for capacity and skill. They assembled a federation of contractors and subcontractors for each project. Functioned as an org, but dispersed at the end of each project.
In both orgs, they would get a contract from a larger org, establish a working relationship with contacts in that org, and fish around in the soup of freelancers to identify subcontractors. Today’s contractor is tomorrow’s subcontractor; leadership becomes something one does if one has the contract.
Why did these people decide to be freelancers? It wasn't the health benefits. It wasn't the earnings potential either, which was variable at best. Rather, they wanted autonomy. And autonomy broke down into freedom, flexibility, and creativity. (explain)
In this sort of environment, organizations were emergent and recombinant - they grew around the project and did not persist over time. Today's contractor could be tomorrow's subcontractor. These federations were built from freelancers' existing connections, but maintained largely through IT, including email, Basecamp, and phones. In these federations, you couldn't fire people, and you had to be careful about cutting them loose since you might need them for the next project. So trust became very important: trust that someone could manage their own time, work autonomously, and handle the job. And trust was constantly reevaluated and localized.
So Telecorp and GD freelancers, although different, point us to some of the same implications for growing emergent leaders. Persuasion and trust become very important, since people must assert temporary leadership over others outside of their hierarchy and perhaps even their organization. Time and project management skills become critical, since staying on task is a trust-building measure and since an individual may be involved in several different projects simultaneously. Adaptability and lifelong learning become critical: people must work with others across field, trade, discipline boundaries. Strategic thinking must be pushed across the organization: emergent leaders may need to set strategic goals, but MUST be able to keep strategic goals in mind when executing.
I’ll draw on a study of a telecommunications company that is discussed more thoroughly in my upcoming book, Net Work. Citation’s on the screen. It makes a great Christmas gift. But more importantly for our purposes, it illustrates some of the really interesting changes going on in how work is organized and how people communicate across boundaries.
Spinuzzi ia2009 - two cases
Emergent Leadership: Two Cases Two Cases <ul><li>Clay Spinuzzi, University of Texas at Austin </li></ul><ul><li>[email_address] :: @spinuzzi </li></ul>
Case 1: Telecorp > 300 workers 20 functional groups high turnover rapid expansion multiple fields, trades
<ul><li>Long-term or lifelong jobs </li></ul><ul><li>Steady contacts with other organizations and public </li></ul><ul><li>Linear development of expertise </li></ul><ul><li>Clearly defined roles </li></ul><ul><li>Vertical expertise </li></ul><ul><li>Organizational, disciplinary, trade boundaries </li></ul><ul><li>Interior vs. exterior </li></ul>Traditional work
But ... <ul><li>Downsizing </li></ul><ul><li>Automation </li></ul><ul><li>Flattening of work hierarchies </li></ul><ul><li>Proliferating intercompany relationships </li></ul><ul><li>Continual reorganization </li></ul><ul><li>Breaking down of “silos”/ “stovepipes” </li></ul><ul><li>Increase in telecommunications , making it possible to connect any two points in the organization </li></ul>
“ Interpenetrated” Anyone can link up with anyone else inside or outside the organization, so any work activities can be intersected. *
Case 2: Freelancers GD1: Sophie, mid 30s, working from home office. GD2: Bob and Tom, early 30s, working from Bob’s condo.Both must assemble federations for every project.
<ul><li>Freedom : How and with Whom </li></ul><ul><li>Flexibility : When and Where </li></ul><ul><li>Creativity : What to produce </li></ul><ul><li>GD1 and GD2 did not mention greater earnings potential as a motivator. </li></ul>Autonomy in federations
<ul><li>Organizations and leadership change for each project. </li></ul><ul><li>Federations are built on social links, but enabled by information technologies. </li></ul><ul><li>Trust is an ongoing achievement, constantly evaluated, constantly localized. </li></ul><ul><li>Federations are temporary, but networks of contacts had to be more durable and broader. </li></ul>Leadership in federations
persuasion, collaboration time and project management adaptability strategic thinking lifelong learning Implications
Spinuzzi, Clay. (2008.) Network: Theorizing knowledge work in telecommunications . New York: Cambridge University Press.