Guest commentary: Collegiality: a 21st century management answer

In a recent two-part series on "The Knowledge Imperative" (KMWorld, April and May 2006), Jonathan Spira emphasized that vendors of customer knowledge software must help organizations move beyond the outmoded ideas of the industrial age. Since KMWorld's focus is on content, document and knowledge management, Spira's message on evaluating the organization's management paradigm is imperative, even though business schools have indicated that it is daunting. Too bad this can't be accomplished by software or even an information system.

Changing a mindset is difficult for most individuals and even more challenging for organizations. A place to begin is determining what management theory or theories operate within the organization. Many organizations are still functioning with management theories from the 19th and 20th centuries that were sufficient in the past, but are insufficient for this current age. Are managers aware of this and what can be done to move into the 21st century? How can organizations avoid the fads that offer simple solutions—which are prescriptive, stepwise and often naive-- to change their approaches and practices to people and processes?

First, there are many 19th and 20th century management approaches that organizations may operate with and many more management fads, but do they present a compelling vision and action plan for the 21st century organization? Do traditional 20th century theories of behavior, systems, quality and contingency offer organizations a better product and service than the principles and practices of the classic, 19th century bureaucratic, scientific and administrative theories? Because those can be considered part of the industrial mindset, then what management theory presents the solution to support innovation and collaboration that is required by 21st century organizations?

Will this other management theory be years in the making and available in a tested form by the middle or end of the 21st century? Fortunately for organizations today, there is a management theory and field of practice that is available now. In fact, it's an ancient theory that has existed for more than a millennium, but it's unlike today's management fads, which provide the usual, easy, cookie-cutter, stepped process that results in little improvement or good, and usually causes harm to the organization. This 21st century management theory is very challenging in principle and practice, and its origins suggest that history doesn't record anything magical about it. This theory is collegiality.

Collegiality was developed and practiced by communities to optimize resources and enable people to work in a respectful environment, in which each person is able to make a contribution for the organization's good in an open, honest atmosphere that encourages and supports informed, different views and opinions. An important aspect of collegiality, which is often lacking in organizations today, is welcomed and respected disagreement. Therefore, how the organization addresses creative ideas and differing viewpoints will greatly influence the flow of insights and knowledge among those in the workplace, and the management theory that can best support this is collegiality.

Another challenging quality of collegiality is its inclusive, participative, decision-making model. While some management fads have encouraged teamwork and empowerment, only collegiality vests a shared power and authority among its members.

The benefits of collegiality include but are not limited to the following list:

  • Greater productivity from improved morale.
  • Increased innovation and insight into product and service.
  • Willingness to accept and support change through participation.
  • Genuine interest in customers and improved communication with them.
  • More active interaction with suppliers.
  • Reduced costs and increased revenues.

For the information system professional attempting to advance knowledge management software and practices, collegiality provides that management support, and redesigns the organization so that knowledge sharing is fostered.

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