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Enterprise 2.0: How We Manage Needs A Reboot

Community-based management structures are the way of the future, say opening day keynote presenters.

The Enterprise 2.0 conference began Monday by challenging attendees to think about how organizations can change and showing how some organizations already have.

The keynotes at Enterprise 2.0 in Santa Clara, Calif., a UBM TechWeb event, kicked off with "Macrowikinomics" author Don Tapscott on the need for organizations and whole industries to reinvent themselves.

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After Tapscott presented the grand vision, Management Innovation eXchange (MIX) participants shared practical examples of just how differently management can work. Polly LaBarre, co-founder and editorial director of MIX, led a panel discussion on how some organizations are breaking away from traditional corporate organization.

"There is so much that is broken in the way we manage our organizations," said LaBarre. Corporate structures invented 100 years ago to assert organizational control need to be less insistent on top-down control, with more emphasis on being resilient, innovative, and inspiring. She invited Enterprise 2.0 attendees to help set a new course for management in a Management Hackathon that will continue through the June 2012 Enterprise 2.0 event in Boston.

[Crowdsourcing selected leaders for the Enterprise 2.0 software innovation competition. Enterprise 2.0: Meet The Launch Pad Finalists.]

LeBarre's first panelist was Paul Green of the Morning Star Company, a privately owned firm that makes tomato paste and other tomato products. "Morning Star is the world's largest tomato processor, and it's also one of the most radical models of a self-managed enterprise," a business where no one is anyone else's boss, LaBarre said. Although Green was listed on the program as "director of the Self Management Institute" at Morning Star, he said he actually doesn't have a title--no one at the company does.

LaBarre was also joined by Philippe Beaudette, head of reader relations at the Wikimedia Foundation, the organization behind Wikipedia. His story was about how Wikimedia ran a strategic planning process aimed at keeping the organization vital the same way it runs Wikipedia--by putting the community in charge.

The MIX website provides a detailed Morning Star case study, featuring the company's system of using a "colleague letter of understanding" to have employees make commitments to each other, as an alternative to hierarchical organization. Morning Star was among the winners of the MIX Management 2.0 challenge, announced in September. The site also features a case study on the Wikimedia Foundation's strategic planning process.

While it might seem unsurprising that the nonprofit Wikimedia Foundation would run an open strategy process, Beaudette said figuring out how to make it work was a challenge. Wikimedia employees had to take a step back from the process and let the community run it as much as possible, he said. "We provide a framework--that's all we do," he said. Management consultants were involved in the process, but Wikimedia had to convince them to share early drafts of their recommendations and let the community alter them, rather than produce the kind of polished product they would for any other client.

Morning Star is a for-profit enterprise and one Green said has been achieving double-digit growth on a self-governance model where any employee can hire or procure supplies, or make other decisions to keep the business running, as long as all employees follow through on their commitments to each other. "We hire really great people who will put things together and make it happen," Green said. "If someone has gone off the beaten path, we figure out, are they going where the road really should be, or do we need to rope them back in?"

This organization is not a result of applying Enterprise 2.0 or Web 2.0 technologies, given that it dates to the company's founding in the 1970s. Green said the company does use those technologies today (it's a customer of MIX sponsor Saba Software) and they're an important element of maintaining a structure that might become unwieldy otherwise. "The technology has allowed us to scale up our organization more quickly," he said.

Follow David F. Carr on Twitter @davidfcarr. The BrainYard is @thebyard.

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