Creative Leadership

Managing Your Organization in a Digital Age

There’s been a lot of talk lately about changing management styles in the digital age.  In a past era, most companies were involved in the making of “stuff” – products and things.  Today, a growing number of companies are involved in the production and management of “information.”  So does the classic top down leadership style continue to work?  In the new book “Mobilizing Minds,” the authors give some time to the issue.

They believe a key reason for the failure of businesses today is how they’re organized in an age of information.  Most companies continue to be divided up by departments – research and development, manufacturing, production, sales, distribution, etc… but with information, the breakdown isn’t always that clear or similar.  In an idea economy, perhaps it’s time to re-think how we’re set up.

Some of my personal thinking is along the lines of smaller creative teams.  I consult with companies who still get 20 people around a table to brainstorm. But Jeff Bezos at Amazon says you shouldn’t have more people in a brainstorming session that could be fed by a couple of pizzas.  Any bigger group gets unwieldy and unproductive.  As an example, for years, advertising agencies have teamed up an account executive, artist, and writer under the leadership of a creative director to handle a single client.  

In an upcoming book to be published in the fall, “The Future of Management” the author takes a look at Google to see how this dominating company has changed attitudes toward management and leadership.  He looks at Google’s quirky perks like top-flight chefs in the cafeteria and free massages, but he also looks at their attitude toward radical decentralization, smaller, self-managing teams, trying out new products before making them widely available, and more.

The point is, we’ve responded to the digital age in other ways – we use e-mail, cell phones, the web, and more, and yet we’re still managing our organizations as if we were manufacturing widgets.  There’s still plenty of voices that say the widget style still works – that a strong leader still is necessary to say “This is what we’re doing” and then have a staff of employees to get it done.

But I think it’s worth looking at – not just in companies, but in non-profit and religious organizations as well.  How could you more effectively manage your organization, company, or church in the digital age?  I would encourage you to re-think how you work and how you lead.  Changing the leadership, team, and employee dynamic to fit better within a radically changed web-centric workplace might be the most important thing you can do right now.

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  1. The concepts you present here are interesting. Certainly we need to be on the cutting edge of understanding with regard to effective best practices in leading and managing an organization (BTW – leading and managing are two very different disciplines).  But be careful not to become confused by continuously emerging management fads. 


    No matter how you cut it, a business is made up of three key components: Sales, Service, and Finance. Sales includes marketing, advertising and order-taking; Service varies with the nature of the business but has to do with the creating and delivering the services or products your organization exists to provide; Finance measures the effectiveness of Sales and Service and provides the funding, guidelines and reports to maximize their profitability.


    Once these three components are established, then there is room for flexibility within each of their structures.  However, there are essentially 4 parts to the team process: Creator, Advancer, Refiner and Executor.  Regardless of the specific structure, a team must allow the process to flow through these our steps.


    A Creator is faced with a problem and comes up with a new idea – however, Creators often don’t know how to convert the idea into reality; An Advancer usually doesn’t know how to solve the problem until the Creator come us with the idea.  Once the new idea is presented the Advancer will run with it and get the process started; A Refiner sees a new idea wants to make sure everything is right.  Refiners often put the brakes on Advancers because they want to make sure all of the possible problems are addressed. Sometimes Refiners can appear negative because they continuously wave the flag of caution.  However, without the input of a Refiner, any idea is doomed to be problematic, at best; Executors don’t want anything to do with solving problems. They just want to know what to do and how to do it. The will execute or implement the directives given them, but will not be sensitive to higher level problems.


    Understanding these 4 team roles in developing a team structure is critical.  Whether the team is 4 creative individuals as Phil described the ad agency, or a larger group as often exists in churches or ministries – all four steps are essential. Watch closely in your next team meeting and you will see the players hand the ball to one another.  If one of these steps is missing then problems are due to follow.


    I recently profiled a new client’s executive team and discovered that they had no Refiners on staff.  Based on that, I told them the following scenario: “You come up with great ideas and the staff gets excited and responds right away.  They organize and get all the balls in motion. They mobilize volunteers to assist with making the idea happen. Then after the fact you sit down and ask yourselves why so much went wrong.  The favorite post-event question is “Why didn’t we…”


    The client was amazed… I explained the important role of a Refiner to the team process. They confessed that they used to have someone like that on staff, but let him go because he was so rebellious. They confused refining with rebelling – and crippled their team.

    As you build your organization, don’t be afraid try some new approaches to creating better teamwork and communication.  However, do not neglect the basics of Sales, Service and Finance – and within each of those areas seek to facilitate an effective team process.

  2. Your comment about "confusing refining with rebelling" is brilliant. WAY too many people are fired from non-profit and religious organizations because the boss feels that "refining" is "rebellion." We need more refiners – otherwise, great ideas fail because they don't get executed well. I would encourage every religious and non-profit leader to really consider how they react to the "refiners" on their team…

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