Why turning to collaborative governance?
archipelago was born end of 2016 from a merge of two architecture firms. One based in Brussels, the other based in Leuven. Two entities, two ways of working, two different cultures. What a best moment for Françoise Haumont, Managing Partner of archipelago, and her team to think about the future of the company?
“In 2017, we spent quite some time to agree on a shared mission, as shared vision but also on some shared values. At the end of 2017, it was clear for everyone and we thought we were good to go”, Françoise explains.
What first came out of this brainstorming was a matricial structure where the Leuven office represented the vertical organization and the Brussels office, the competencies-orientated organization. By the end of 2018, tensions started. The matrix felt too rigid. archipelago has thus started to think about another way to proceed and came across the collaborative governance organization.
“It was challenging but it made sense since our business is to co-create building projects with our clients and stakeholders involved in the process. We thought “Why not deeply root this collaborative way into our organization?”, says Françoise. archipelago met Phusis in 2019 and started its transformation journey towards collaborative governance.
How collaborative governance enabled archipelago to manage unpredictability?
Implementing collaborative governance in the organization has made it more adaptive and able to deal with unpredictability. A strength that all companies are craving for today. How did it work for archipelago?
“All the projects could go on and all the goals were met before summer”
According to Françoise, 3 elements were critical to make collaborative governance work:
- Space for dialogue – All the work done to become a collaborative organization has created spaces for dialogue where everybody has a voice. Anything can be approached there, whether it is ordinary or extraordinary.
- Autonomy – The autonomy that is given to collaborators while they are taking new roles in the organisation, allows everyone to take initiative and to be creative.
- Method – Without the method, it would be chaotic. It is the most difficult part to manage because it involves new processes and ways of working that imply finding the right balance between making autonomous decisions while ensuring that all the people who are directly concerned by these decisions, or their consequences, are consulted.
As for any company, great unpredictability came with covid-19. However, it only took a week to the 130 collaborators of archipelago to propose the technical solutions that were required to work remotely. Everything was ready in a few days and everybody was able to work from home when the Government officially announced Belgium’s lockdown on March 19th.
“All the teams have reorganized themselves virtually, recreating the space for dialogue they used to have in the office. All the projects could go on and all the goals were met before summer. Not even 5% of our collaborators had to be temporarily laid off. We were surprised ourselves of how well it went and I think the journey we’ve gone for a year was part of the reason why we could do it so easily. We just jumped into the water more rapidly than we thought! “, shares Françoise.
Why is autonomy as difficult to receive as it is to give?
The choices that have been made so far by archipelago seem to pay off, but shifting to collaborative governance where you give and receive autonomy is not that simple. Françoise explains that, for some people, receiving autonomy might be hard because it comes to self-confidence and self-awareness of their abilities, skills, experiences. Yet, to fully embrace autonomy, people have to be honest with themselves.
“Some people can feel unsafe about giving autonomy to others because it means losing control and power.”
“Ultimately, it is the comfort zone that must be questioned. It does not mean that the organization tells you to get out of it but if you want to do so, you have to do it consciously and question your ownself. Some people can feel unsafe about giving autonomy to others because it means losing control and power. It takes a certain humility to admit that we all have uncertainties”, admits Françoise.
Is a personal transformation critical to the success of collaborative governance?
According to Françoise, transparency for the individual means being on the side of each individual, so that they can develop themselves in a collaborative organization.
“The HR mission comes to the individual part of the collaborators, while the collective part of the organization is probably more of the operations and core business itself. Personal transformation is an individual matter. Some people need to change, some others don’t. It is the role of HR to measure where personal transformation could be critical to achieve collaborative governance”, says Françoise.
She then raises a very interesting question asking if the success of a collaborative organization is due to the success of the organization in itself or to a successful collaboration within this organization? Françoise explains that, for her, collaboration is a choice of organization. Once it has been made, everybody has to share the purpose of the collaboration and as collaborative organisations are constantly evolving and adapting, people need to change at some point, even if they do not have to. As the Greek philosopher Heraclitus once stated, “The only constant in life is change”. Without change, would organizations and their people still be able to grow?
To conclude on the role of HR leaders within organizational transformations Françoise adds : “HR have to be part of the process and not a role on the side. There is no tailor-made solution for HR because we are talking about human people ; so HR should rather be more on the listen part than on the making part. There is no predefined role, it is a co-creation if you want the process to be successful”.
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