The traditional organisation is not anti the peer-to-peer dynamic. In fact, it is awash with activities that demonstrate it understands how important it can be: team building exercises, away days, Christmas parties etc.
We know it has power.
But, despite this, the traditional organisation stops short of recognising this belief in its structure and day to day operations. For example, incentives are built for the individual, not the team; the final arbiter on performance is the manager, not the colleague; the decision on expenditure lies with a central staff function, not the team.
Here are some reasons why we should put greater emphasis on a peer-to-peer system of accountability:
An organisation belongs to everyone
If a business goes bankrupt, everyone loses. If it succeeds, everyone gains. Albeit, in both cases, some more than others. Be that as it may, everyone contributes to its success or failure. And, as such, should feel a participant and partner in the process.
There is less politics.
Because we grow up in an industrialised, top-down system, we learn from a young age how to manoeuvre and manipulate our superiors. We learn how to pass the exam, not contribute something new; how to please our superiors, not be ourselves, and so on. But our peers are less easily fooled if we try, nor willing to suffer our efforts to do so.
It illustrates our interdependence
We are all unique and powerful individuals. But contemporary society has led us to believe our identity and potential are an island of individual expression. The reality is very different: we are creatures of community. Our identity and potential have far more to do with the context we operate within and the people we are relationally connected to than we typically admit.
We rely on our peers
It is our peers who are the first to experience the benefits or pain of our engagement. The most obvious example is that, if we are absent or don’t pull our weight, it is our peers who must step in for us. Our peers can tell where we’re slacking off, not committing what we should. It is our peers that create a culture where excelling is encouraged or otherwise.
We misunderstand what it's like to be a manager
Management is lonely. It is stressful. It carries an unequal burden of responsibility. And, whilst managers are paid more for their seniority, the emotional burden remains. And it is taking a heavy mental and social toll. We imagine more seniority is accompanied by a wealth of freedom and opportunity. Whilst there is certainly more privilege and latitude than the average worker receives, there isn’t nearly as much liberty as we expect there to be. Managers are stuck within a bureaucratic paradigm as well; many feel just as powerless after promotion as they did beforehand. And we are mistaken if we think that money solves these issues: only a small percentage is on the stellar salaries we read of in the press.
We know the power of collective responsibility
Anyone who has lived through some form of emergency, whether that’s a local disaster or a business in need of saving knows the power of people coming together around a common purpose. Even those of us who haven’t lived it, have probably witnessed it. This doesn’t have to only occur in situations of grave need.