Monday, June 25, 2007

Sense and leadership in organisations

This is a comment to a blog post on Cognitive Edge. It is a really concise, interesting summation of an approach to leadership that I have been considering more recently, and that demonstrates some of the most powerful elements represented in emergent and collaborative knowledge management.

Perhaps one of the problems here arises from thinking of leadership communication solely in terms of ‘getting the message across’ – whether or not story is used as the way of pursuing this. Organizations comprise people talking, acting, interacting and transacting with each other continuously through the medium of conversation. As people get together, both formally and informally, they make things up. That is, they perceive, interpret, evaluate and share their views of what’s going on and decide how, in the light of that, they should act. Through these everyday interactions, ‘stories’ are jointly crafted which, in turn, tend to channel ongoing conversations down familiar, ‘cultural’ pathways.

Outcomes, in the form of the sense that is made and the use that this is put to, are co-created by those in the conversation. These can’t be handed down by leaders – or by anyone else for that matter. From this perspective, a leader’s task is to actively engage in the joint sensemaking process – both directly and indirectly – to build active coalitions of support around themes that are organizationally beneficial. Others who participate in the process will do so from their own perspective and with their own agendas in mind - coalescing informally around particular themes, either to advance a particular cause or to frustrate it.

From this “informal coalitions” view of organizations, the future is being perpetually constructed in the present, through this dynamic network of self-organizing conversations. Sometimes these conversations serve to reinforce the existing patterns, ‘deepening the channels of meaning’ (in the form of openly articulated stories and taken-for-granted assumptions) that are currently influencing the nature and outcome of everyday conversations. At other times, the conversations shift the patterns in new ways, creating new ‘channels’ that begin to divert sensemaking in new directions. As the pattern of conversations change, so do the stories that are told. And so does the organization.

Update: I cam across this really cool post with another take on the difference between knowledge management and social/organisational interaction.

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