Co-creating a new type of organization

July 3, 2012

How we conceive of organizations is changing.  What we have come to know as NGOs, nonprofits, charities and civil society organizations are being re-envisioned  as concepts like social enterprise have challenged the traditional silos and new hybrid structures are being created.

For the past year I’ve been working with a group we are calling Ci2iGlobal.  We are using CI2iGlobal as a laboratory for many things including experimenting with developing it as a ‘new organization’.  Here are some of the structural and operational concepts we’ve been exploring with that I believe will be increasingly important to all organizations to at least consider going forward:

  1. A cross-sector approach – Draw good ideas from wherever they may reside; this may be the traditional sectors of NGOs, social enterprises, business or government. For example, in the private sector, some type of financial remuneration is seen as the primary compensation for effort.  In the social sector this has traditionally been frowned upon. But what if we could use the business model of profit for shareholders and target it towards social good? What if all co-creators  were to receive some type of equity, not just for the specific product they may help co-create, but for the organization itself?
  2.  Balance the need for flexibility with structure  –  As the world changes quickly and with technology speeding up our need to respond quickly, organizations will need to be more nimble.  At the same time, some structure is needed to bind the key actors together and provide some level of accountability.  Creating structures that can balance these two, sometimes competing demands, will push us into primarily unchartered territory.
  3. Co-leadership  – As we move towards concepts of ‘shared leadership’ it will necessitate finding a balance between ‘traditional’ concepts of leadership, and leaders who facilitate a process.  It’s a challenging balance which relies, in addition to collective group guidelines that may be developed, an individual’s instincts as to when to move ahead on his/her own and when to bring something to the group for discussion.  The path is not as well marked as for traditional leadership and governing Boards.
  4. Transparency vis a vis co-creating with stakeholders –  We have moved into an era of an expectation of some sort of transparency, that organizations will endeavor to share information about their operations with key stakeholders and ideally the public at large.  But transparency is different than co-creation.  Transparency is one way.  There is still a small group making decisions.   Co-creation endeavors to bring more people into taking action on behalf of the organization and the decision-making process in a variety of ways.  Where can working groups be given autonomy to make decisions for the organization?
  5. Tradition vis a vis ‘state of the art’ –  Change in the world and the social sector at large provides the opportunity to try new things, but not everything needs to be a new approach. To maximize an organization’s impact and not overwhelm its operations, it will be important to look at what aspects of its operations might follow a more traditional approach and where it will want to experiment.