Why doing collaborative governance after Lean Management?

16 June 2020 | Lean

When you have already transformed your organization with Lean Management, why transform it again with collaborative governance?

Why develop collaborative governance when you have already implemented Lean?

Many companies are now thinking about innovating in their managerial practices or evolving their organisation towards new modes of governance that are aligned with tomorrow’s world. At Phusis, we believe in the implementation of a collaborative governance model promoting autonomy, inclusion and personal development. We are convinced that the world of work must go through an authentic global transformation to enable better collective performance. However, when we discuss with organizations about the implementation of collaborative governance, it is common to hear reactions such as: “It’s one more transformation”, “We did Lean then and now it’s the fashion of collaborative governance”.

Management teams are asking themselves why they should undertake another transformation in view of the previous results, whether they are encouraging or disappointing. The field teams are under the impression that they are going through one transformation after another, without really continuing to believe in it. Lean heralded cultural changes, new opportunities, new developments, but often resulted in drastic reductions in costs and staffing. Why would collaborative governance do better?

To be featured in this article:

Lean Management: what exactly are we talking about?

Lean Management is a system of work organization aimed at performance through continuous improvement and waste reduction. The Lean method is based on the Toyota production system created after the World War II. It has since then been adopted and adapted to a wide variety of economic sectors. Since its inception, Lean has seen many variations, including “Lean Management”, which makes this method in particular applicable to service organisations.

However, certain principles remain the same: continuous improvement, reduction of waste, adaptation of the service provided to the real needs of the customer, structuring of meetings, standardisation of work, processes optimisation, involvement of teams in the field, performance management, skills development, and the mandatory visit of the field before making decisions.

A managerial approach with two faces

The vision one has of Lean is very different depending on how one has lived the experience. For some, it is a first version of collaborative management, for others, it is a particularly drastic and effective cost-cutting tool.

Originally, the ambition of Lean Management is clear: to optimize the efficiency of the organization and refocus it on the real needs of the customer. Anything that wastes time, energy or money must be identified and eliminated.

When an organization undertakes a transformation with this performance objective as its sole guide, it inevitably leads to drifts such as massive restructuring, resulting in a deep disengagement and rejection of the transformation project as a whole. However, Lean is not limited to process optimization, waste reduction or frenetic standardization.

Lean Management includes a whole chapter on cultural and managerial transformation that leads to rethinking everyone’s place in the organization, encouraging each individual to report problems they encounter, to propose solutions and to strengthen communication and transparency.

“A Lean transformation, when carried out in an authentic and overall way, provides therefore the foundation for collaborative governance”

Therefore, an organization for which Lean has not had the expected results should ask itself the following questions: What was our primary motivation? Were we really ready to change the culture of our organization? Did we give the organization time to adapt to its new way of operating before cutting costs?

Companies that have made Lean Management a success, in other words that have made a real cultural change, should ask themselves if they are ready to go further by implementing collaborative governance.

Lean, a preamble to collaborative governance?

Indeed, when an organization wishes to become more collaborative, it decides to go further in the approach, not to take another direction. Lean, in its collaborative form, creates an intermediate governance model between omniscient and omnipotent management and collaborative governance.


Lean > Collaborative Governance


Field decisions and autonomy

Lean invites leaders to consult with people on the ground before making decisions. They go to the field to see what is happening and discuss with employees. In this model, everyone is encouraged to think about their work and how to improve it. With Lean, improvements are developed by employees based on real-life experience rather than theoretical considerations.

Collaborative governance reinforces and develops these concepts with the difference that employees no longer have to look to their hierarchy to decide whether the solution they propose to solve a problem is appropriate. Collaborative governance allows everyone to evolve their work, to deal with their reality and to manage their role and responsibilities, in complete autonomy, after consulting the opinions of those affected.

An operational but also structural transformation

The opportunities identified in Lean are mostly operational, whereas collaborative governance gives all collaborators the opportunity to change the very structure of the organization, to create new roles as well as new teams (or “circles” in the terminology of collaborative governance).

With collaborative governance, there is no longer a need to carry out lengthy studies to define an organizational model. Under this mode of governance, employees make iterative changes, based on their experiences, but also on their needs. Of course, these changes are framed and follow a defined process, including expert consultation and consent decision, which makes the structure of the organization more fluid, rapid and direct than in traditional managerial models, with a view to organic improvement.

Effective and transparent communication

If Lean Management already brings structure and transparency in the diffusion of information between the different levels of the organization, collaborative governance offers a framework and operating rules that promote targeted and effective communication. It does so through, in particular, meetings that go to the essentials and where everyone can request specific information from their peers or other levels of the organization.

Performance and collective responsibility

Where Lean advocates performance management, supervised by a manager or a capacity manager, collaborative governance puts in place mechanisms allowing each individual to ensure collective performance. The performance of the team, or even of the organization, becomes a collective responsibility for which each employee is accountable.

A deeper and more engaging cultural approach

Finally, while Lean invites members of the organization to share their ideas for improvement, collaborative governance encourages the taking of initiatives in an autonomous and framed way. In doing so, it increases confidence in everyone to act responsibly for the benefit of the organization. From a cultural point of view, Lean organizations share the vision and mission of the organization and the departments. Collaborative governance adds to it the purpose for each role, emphasizing the importance of everyone’s contribution to the achievement of the organization’s mission and the achievement of the results.

Overcoming preconceived ideas

Contrary to popular belief, collaborative governance is not an organization of total freedom, where everyone does what they want as they please. There are rules to be respected that guarantee alignment, efficiency and performance.

In collaborative governance, the hierarchy of people gives way to a hierarchy of roles and circles, all with a purpose that ensures strategic alignment.

Lean Management, for its part, is not a rigid methodology preventing any kind of autonomy or individual reflection and transforming the members of an organization into robots. On the contrary, it invites oneself to ask questions in order to improve things and to develop oneself. It gives a voice to people in the field who have been deprived of it for a long time.

In either case, the transformation must be carried out in an authentic and benevolent manner. To improve the overall performance of the organization and the commitment of individuals, it must reflect a real desire for structural change.

Two complementary methods

If collaborative governance is the continuation of the collaborative aspects of Lean, it does not replace the entire methodology, which remains a reference in terms of process improvements, analysis of customer expectations or skills management. The two approaches combine to give employees, who are autonomous and responsible, all the tools to improve their organization.

A Lean transformation teaches teams to play the notes of efficiency, collaborative governance gives the space to make a melody of it autonomously.

Implementing the collaborative aspects of Lean is one way to start the smooth transition to collaborative governance. It allows the development of continuous improvement and collective intelligence while maintaining the traditional hierarchical structure. It will then become easier to achieve the necessary structural change allowing employees to acquire the autonomy and responsibility they need to unlock their full potential.

Conclusion: it is necessary, in all cases, to capitalize on experience in Lean Management

The experience of a Lean transformation should be taken into account when an organization decides to make the leap to collaborative governance. If it has been carried out in an authoritarian way and focused on cost reduction, it will be a question of rectifying the drifts and restoring confidence in and for the collaborators.

If, on the contrary, it has enabled the development of a collaborative culture and increased involvement, it will be necessary to capitalize on it to go beyond the traditional model and build a new organization.

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