Based in Sydney, Australia, Foundry is a blog by Rebecca Thao. Her posts explore modern architecture through photos and quotes by influential architects, engineers, and artists.

Three Worlds

This is the first installment in a three-part series.

There are three worlds of labor-management relations: problem-solving, advocacy, and revolution. Which one are you in?

Here's a hint: sometimes it's all three. What's important is recognizing which one is relevant in a given situation.

The first world is problem-solving. You’re in this world when the employees identify with the organization and its mission and feel a sense of allegiance to it. The opportunity in this world is to deepen that sense of allegiance by increasing the level of ownership your employees feel.

That sounds good, but it turns out to be scary to lots of managers, because the best way to do that is through some kind of participatory decision-making process over issues that are truly meaningful to your employees.

Leaders and managers who are responsible for results naturally fear and loathe losing control when facing the unknown future. The tension is that what you need to do to build more trust and a stronger team can involve letting go of some control. But the allure of control is strong to managers, and many succumb to it in one of two ways:

  1. Create a counterfeit process that doesn't actually offer employees a real say, only that imposter 'input'.
  2. Offer a real process but carefully carve out those critical issues that people care about the most and keep those decisions for yourself.

People aren't stupid. They will see through these, especially in a collective bargaining environment where you are required to bargain over working conditions. You might get away with it in the short term, but over time repeated episodes will erode trust where you might have built it.

In an environment where a sense of shared mission is important, the allure of control can distract you from the important knowledge that to build the strongest sense of commitment requires that the participants co-create the thing they're committing to.

If you remember that the ultimate goal is to solve problems in a way that makes your organization stronger, you won't be derailed by your need to control.

Recognizing the Future