Birds of a Feather Flock Together
I love meeting smart, passionate, self-aware people over coffee.
If I could, I would fill my entire day with caffeine-fueled conversations unpacking lofty questions like, “What’s our purpose?” and “Why are there so many white guys with beards in the tech industry?”
But alas, can’t you pay the bills with cups of cappuccino…
During a recent conversation with a new consultant at Slalom (Yes, we both just happen to be white guys with beards), we excitedly discussed the future of work.
From sharing ideas like declaring a mission instead of a major to effectively using constraint-based creativity, we shared our respective visions for organizational success.
This might not sound all that interesting, but it’s something I think about a lot, especially since accepting my first full-time position almost ten months ago.
As an experience design consultant, I help advocate for humans when it comes to designing and developing enterprise-level software. This involves working with a lot of large companies, each with their own ideas of what success looks like to them.
On nights and weekends, I still help make software more human, just with smaller-scale clients like startups and entrepreneurs.
Working with both ends of the spectrum gives me perspective on how each group is tackling the same, towering question:
What does the future of work look like?
Specifically, what does the future of leadership in the workplace look like?
While pondering this question, my new friend and coworker shared a perfect metaphor:
“Leading or managing at work will look more like a flock of birds instead of a military formation.”
What exactly is the difference?
A flock of birds (not in a flying V) is able to seamlessly move as one cohesive unit, course-correcting on the fly (pun intended). It’s similar to a school of fish in that the entire group behaves like one fluid creature.
In other words, the future of managing will be less hierarchical and more horizontal.
Need a more concrete example?
Take the consulting industry.
Sure, consulting already lends itself to more autonomy than the average 9-to-5 job, but there are still consulting firms that operate in a more traditional manner (managers dictating which consultants work on which client projects as well as suggesting what they work on while they are on “the bench,” or in-between client projects).
I was lucky enough to join a more progressive consulting firm. Since joining Slalom, I’ve seen examples of this flock mentality almost daily.
When Slalom consultants are on the bench, they have full autonomy to identify their own passion projects and bring them to an RFC (Request for Comments). Essentially, any consultant can share what they have in mind, ask for specific feedback, and then form a coalition if there is enough interest.
I know what you might be thinking:
“This sounds great, but what about billable work and the overall direction of the company?”
Let me paint you a picture.
During one week last December, I found myself in our main conference room with about 15 other consultants. We were one of many groups brought together to give input and ultimately create our “emerging strategy.”
We were all asked to give our answers to the following questions:
- What would we like to preserve and grow?
- What do we want to change?
- What do we want to eliminate?
- What do we want to prioritize?
It just so happens I was sitting in-between one consultant who had been hired two days before and another who had been there for two years.
I don’t know about you, but I don’t know many companies that are willing to put forth the effort it takes to include everyone in this process.
The best part, this wasn’t a top-down, leadership-mandated initiative. Quite the opposite — it came from consultants on the ground level who felt like everyone should be heard.
If this sounds a little unusual, that’s because it is.
Most companies don’t trust the people they hire to make decisions outside of their narrowly-defined job descriptions. In their minds, this should be left to management.
Whether this is your first time hearing about horizontal leadership or you’re fortunate enough to work somewhere where it’s the norm, you can’t help but embrace the fact that this is the future of work.
If companies want to continue hiring top talent, they will have to acknowledge that many of these employees value being included when it comes to choosing a long-term destination for the ship.