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Rebuilding Companies as Communities

In a post on our internal wiki, Eric suggested we have a look at a recent HBR article by Henry Mintzberg – Rebuilding Companies as Communities. Using a non-traditional organizational structure within our company, Eric knew that the article would be of interest to those of us who believe in the community structure as well as to those who doubt this is a viable organizational model.

Beneath the current economic crisis lies another crisis of far greater proportions: the depreciation in companies of community—people’s sense of belonging to and caring for something larger than themselves. Decades of short-term management, in the United States especially, have inflated the importance of CEOs and reduced others in the corporation to fungible commodities—human resources to be “downsized” at the drop of a share price. - Rebuilding Companies as Communities. Using a non-traditional organizational structure

I need to clarify that in our context, a community is different than the one frequently understood of a social community. Our communities are true business units and need to be financially self-sufficient (they need to generate enough revenue to support their cost structure).

As I presented a few months ago, we have taken the community approach to organize our various departments and we recently realized that we needed a central community to organize – at least in the short term – the work of the various communities. We humoursly called it the BOSS for Bureau d’Organisation et de Support aux Services, in French for Office of Organization and Support Service.

The BOSS’ Mission

The BOSS coordinates and dissiminates relevent business information, and provides support to the various communities in order for them to achieve their goals.
  • Crystallizes information for the communities to help them develop their strategy;
  • Acts as the conduit and diffuser of the strategic and tactical information relevant to the achievement of objectives;
  • Ensures transparency and compliance with the financial capability (definition and monitoring of the budget) of the communities;
  • Guides the communities to be effective in their orientation;
  • Establishes the context for evaluating the contribution of the communities (financial, vision, strategy);
  • Maintains the social architecture of the communities;
  • Acts as a sounding board for new initiatives;
  • Maintains and prioritizes the backlog of initiatives;
  • Detects and offers points of improvement;
  • Organizes monthly meetings;
  • Organizes bi-annual Strategic Cafés.
There are 5 members on this committee with a 6 months term. All members have been elected by the community to represent their interest and make the best decisions for the organization.

Rules

  • All employees must be part of at least one sub-community.

Defined Processes

To create a community: The community should establish and implement a business plan that seeks profitability and submit it to the BOSS for approval. Each community must define its own rules of participation.

To end a community: The criteria and details for this process will be detailed shortly.

Answers to frequently asked questions (FAQ)

Is the BOSS responsible for setting the strategy?

No, the mission of the BOSS is to support the communities in preparing their strategy. It is up to each of the existing communities to establish its own strategy. On the other hand, the BOSS will ensure that a strategy is in place for each community and will assist the communities who need to create their strategy. As stated in its mission, the BOSS is responsible to channel and catalyze the information to help the various communities.

What should communities report to the BOSS?

In line with their business plan, each community will present its progress and key performance indicators in line with achieving their objectives.

I have an idea to launch a new community, what do I do?

Talk to your BOSS representative. You may also consult the internal wiki where you will find the information you need to provide to the BOSS to launch your community. There are meetings every month during which new ideas and opportunities will be presented and evaluated. If your idea is accepted, you will be allocated financial resources allocated according to the needs outlined in your strategy.

Our implementation of the community structure has hit bumps along the way but to date, it seems to be a viable alternative to traditional organizational structures. As with many innovations, we need to make sure we adapt the model to our reality in order for it to be an efficient structure.

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