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Co-Leadership: Corporate Coworking, Part III

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Drew Jones

Head of Consulting at Conjunctured
Drew Jones, Ph.D is an organizational consultant, educator, and writer. He is a Lecturer of Management, Organizational Behavior, and Corporate Social Responsibility in the McCoy College of Business Administration at Texas State University, in San Marcos, TX. He has consulted with firms in the software, food and beverage, construction, advertising, sports management, coworking, and for profit education industries. He has published two books (The Innovation Acid Test: Growth Through Design and Differentiation, Triarchy Press 2008), including the first book about the coworking movement (I’m Outta: How coworking is making the office obsolete, with Todd Sundsted and Tony Bacigalupo, NotanMBA Press 2009), and has a third book (The Fifth Age of Work: Redesigning Work for a MobileSocial World, Night Owls Press), coming out Fall 2013. He has been involved in coworking since 2007, as a coworking space owner, partner, academic researcher, and consultant. He is a partner at Conjunctured Coworking.
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Co-Leadership is the third installment in our series on ‘corporate coworking.’  In Part I we introduce the notion of corporate coworking to a broader audience.  We have been kicking this around for a while, and apparently so have others in the world of HR (see John Sullivan’s parallel but rather different take on corporate coworking here).  In Part II, we talk about the cultural dimension of working (and coworking) in corporate organizations.  Today, in Part III, we explore the leadership dimension of the changing world of work as it is informed by coworking.

Across the coworking world, numerous innovative leaders have been busy pioneering, quite literally, an entirely new approach to leadership.  David Walker here at Conjunctured, Tony Bacigalupo at New Work City (NYC), Alex Hillman at Indy Hall (Philly), Jacob Sayles and Susan Evans at Office Nomads, Roman Gelfer at Sandbox Suites, among others, have successfully created and nurtured this new organizational form for many years now.  It is sometimes easy to forget that as recently as 2006 coworking (as we all know it today) didn’t even exist.  Talk about making shit up as we go along!

Defining (C0) Leadership

While the intricacies of a person’s leadership style are quite personal and unique, what each of these pioneers has in common is an ability to build thriving, organic communities without overly taking center stage.  The leadership success that they’ve had stems from an egalitarianism that is for the most part alien to the corporate world.  As David Berreby put it most eloquently over a decade ago in his Strategy & Business article, “The Hunter-Gatherers of the Knowledge Economy,” gone are the days of the alpha male lording over the tribe.  Counterdominant behavior is now the norm, and consensus and sharing have replaced hierarchical notions of leadership.  Even Ginni Rometty, CEO of IBM, gets it. In a recent speech to the Council on Foreign Relations, she suggests that in today’s organizations a “person’s value lies not in what she/he knows, but in what he/she shares.”  Such a mantra has also been at the center of the success of coworking over the past seven years.  Which leads to the question: How do we define such a leadership style?

Arguably, by putting words to it we might in fact be spoiling it, so apologies in advance.  However, I strongly believe that, in the same way that the ‘organizational form’ of coworking is a model that the corporate world desperately needs if it is to ever be fully humanized, the style of leadership that has driven the success of coworking is equally important.

burning man Co Leadership: Corporate Coworking, Part III

For this, I refer to what is happening in coworking as co-leadership.  One would think that this is already a highly developed notion, but not so.  David Heenan and Warren Bennis’ book, Co-Leaders: The Power of Great Partnerships, is a nod in the right direction, but doesn’t go near far enough.  What I am talking about here isn’t about two or more people leading an organization together, but rather ‘leadership being an emergent social dynamic that is merely the result of the context co-created by a group of people.’  Perhaps at the center of the context are visionaries like David, Jacob, Tony, Susan, and Alex, but their visions are advanced not through traditionally defined leadership, but rather through the sharing that Ginni Rometty talks about.  This isn’t “servant leadership,” either, which usually has as its goal the purely financial success of a firm or organization, even if that is achieved in a more humble manner.

Co-leadership, as it seems to be evolving in the coworking world today, is different.  It reflects the counterdominant values of today’s Gen Flux, where Silent Gen and Baby Boomer assumptions of power and authority no longer hold.  That said, this is, even if it is a totally different animal, a form of leadership nonetheless.  Perhaps un-leadership is better than co-leadership.  Either way, it is clear that, in light of the cultural values that are rising to the surface in a highly networked global culture, such an approach is effective.  Yet another of many lessons that the rest of the world can (and should) learn from the world of coworking.

Designing Culture? Corporate Coworking, Part II

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Drew Jones

Head of Consulting at Conjunctured
Drew Jones, Ph.D is an organizational consultant, educator, and writer. He is a Lecturer of Management, Organizational Behavior, and Corporate Social Responsibility in the McCoy College of Business Administration at Texas State University, in San Marcos, TX. He has consulted with firms in the software, food and beverage, construction, advertising, sports management, coworking, and for profit education industries. He has published two books (The Innovation Acid Test: Growth Through Design and Differentiation, Triarchy Press 2008), including the first book about the coworking movement (I’m Outta: How coworking is making the office obsolete, with Todd Sundsted and Tony Bacigalupo, NotanMBA Press 2009), and has a third book (The Fifth Age of Work: Redesigning Work for a MobileSocial World, Night Owls Press), coming out Fall 2013. He has been involved in coworking since 2007, as a coworking space owner, partner, academic researcher, and consultant. He is a partner at Conjunctured Coworking.
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Within the past week we have begun sharing our vision for how we want to extend the coworking experience ‘beyond coworking.’  What we are calling corporate coworking is elsewhere referred to as Activity Based Work (ABW), but it is really more than that.  At the heart of this is culture.  Our growing passion is to transform, and evolve, the cultures of as many organizations as we possibly can.  How do we propose to do this?

Transcending the Standard Corporate Culture Model

There is no shortage of consultancies out there that claim to understand and measure corporate culture.  Several of them, such as Denison Consulting, Chandler Macleod, Human Synergistics, and Walking the Talk, have developed highly “scientific” formulas for measuring a company’s culture.  The results of their surveys inform companies that their culture is ‘people oriented,’ or ‘customer focused,’ or ‘aggressive,’ or some other combination of words used to describe what is going on in that company.  Visually, the results of these surveys are most often color-coded, so that a company is more or less red, blue, or possibly even green.

denison Designing Culture? Corporate Coworking, Part II

But what really, at the end of the day, do these sorts of assessments tell us, or more importantly, what do they actually do for an organization?  After the results of a survey are presented, the client company is then faced with the challenge of changing values, behaviors, and a whole host of other rather personal things.  Implicit in this approach is an accusatory tone that says to many people within the firm that they have the wrong values and beliefs, and that in order for the organization to change in a desired way those people need to change (who they are).

This is rubbish.  What starts out as a bunch of words ends up with just a bunch of other words.  All firms aspire to be innovative, fair, customer oriented, grounded in integrity, focused on all stakeholders, etc.  What company doesn’t want these things?  What is presented by the A-List culture consultancies is merely candy floss masquerading as science.  Managers know that they need to attend to culture, yet they are so wedded to and blinded by the magic of science that they lie down and eat the candy floss.

Coworking as Change-Management Methodology

As the various experiments in ABW are showing, a company doesn’t need words about values, beliefs, and feelings in order to embark on meaningful cultural change.  Rather, what is needed are commitments.  The physical design, and the socio-physical-psychological interaction of people in well-designed spaces, creates patterns of community interaction on its own.  Of course it’s not all in the space alone.  It also includes giving employees choice, flexibility, and autonomy in how they do their work.  Companies can say that they aspire to be all sorts of things, but what high-performing knowledge workers really want is not that mysterious.  They want:

1. Trustworthy leaders

2. A business strategy that has a purpose beyond $

3. Involvement in meaningful work

4. Colleagues that don’t suck

5.  Maximum flexibility in how they organize their lives

6. The opportunity to innovate and grow professionally and personally

These things only become accessible and real to a group of employees if a company commits to them.  This entails designing spaces and policies that flow in accordance to the organic flows of human nature.

A culture change process that starts with the materiality of design has the potential to actually build culture, through design, without using an excess of words and colors.  The challenge, it seems, lies, first, in building the spaces and policies that align with human nature, then second, just getting out of the way.