How to start a participative management process like collective intelligence?

Who has never met a “sh*t boss”? However, most people with a responsible position want to do well. In a time where participative management and collective intelligence are playing a bigger role in managing companies and employees, my book « I used to be a sh*t boss » gives some keys to set up a participative management process, but above all how to make it work and make it sustainable.

A behind the scenes testimonial if you will. We take a look at the reasons why I decided to embark on this long process and described the steps we took. Full of good practices (based on common sense), this book also has theoretical contributions (and feedback from my coach Isabelle Dubois). The employees of the company played their part as well.

The genesis

In 2009, I wanted to put more emphasis on the human aspect, so I decided to take the leap and launch a process of collective intelligence at ACT*. At the time, « happiness at work » or the liberated company were not very fashionable. The employees are the engine in a SME (= small and medium enterprises). Recruitment is expensive and has to be profitable over time. The questions I asked myself back then: What will make employees still come through the door in five years? How to turn the business into a place where people feel good and invest without counting? This is undoubtedly one of the main reasons that pushed me in this direction. After ten years of participative management, the employees went from obedience to co-responsibility and autonomy, they became the actors of the company project.

What is collective intelligence?

Collective intelligence uses a set of processes that are put in place in the company to improve the interaction between its different actors. In our case, it is the implementation of dynamic progress, centered on the human, and favouring cooperation (unlike the silos).

It is based on the following elements:

  • A company culture: based on the development of the employee, the trust, the transparency, the creativity and the autonomy. This means that everybody determines what happens to them and that all employees are treated equally.
  • A governance: no silos, nor tribes, mini-companies, agility, decisions taken closer to the action, fast and multiple communication about information, use of collaborative technologies to share data, workflow and knowhow, an individual and collective performance, co-development processes, experience sharing, restructured workspaces, flexible hours...
  • A certain style of leadership that cultivates personal humility and organisational ambition. We’re talking about a « resource manager», a manager-coach, a leader who adds meaning, a responsible manager who can make difficult decisions.
  • Collective competences: taking a step back, collective decisions, processes of inclusion and declusion (process implemented when an employee leaves the company), a creative exploitation of the unforeseen.

Collaborate

Cursor management

This type of management requires the manager to move his cursor between a style that’s 100% directive where he’s in control and a style that’s 100% collaborative where he will let go and releases the vision of the company. Between the two, he will be « resource manager » for the employees and will take care of implementing the work process. The capacity to delegate is key in managing this cursor.

Collective intelligence, not like the world of « care bears »

All is not possible. What this model creates, is a common framework in which everyone can evolve. Certain hierarchical barriers fall inevitably, but companies who adopted this management model still have a CEO and managers. On the other hand, the role of managers and the CEO is different from the original one. They are no longer in a « top down » position where they decide everything, but in a bilateral reflection. These managers become facilitators: they assure the cohesion of the team and pursuit of the common goal. They monitor what the teams communicate and that the decisions make sense. They establish a link with other departments and, above all, listen to their teams and the needs of the company.

And the advantages?

There are many, whether it’s for employees who find other sources of motivation, clients who work with a company with deeply held and shared values, and the leader who can devote his time to advancing the company.


Anne-Catherine Trinon, Avant, j'étais un patron de m*rde – Comment le management participatif a transformé ma vie et celle de mon entreprise. Éditions : L'attitude des Héros, Collection Vision d'entreprise, 2019

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