Article (June-2018)


Busting the myth of the open organisation

Rajesh Tripathi

Designation : -   Vice President & Head, Corporate HR

Organization : -  GHCL Limited, Noida


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'Open Organization', a very significant and yet sensitive sort of an outlier word which creates a buzz and gets the house divided on opinions galore when talked about this. It is important to figure out first what we mean by open organization. Is it some sort of an openness which we perceive in our minds which entails people to talk about anything openly? Or is it just a metaphor and applies to circumstances and imposing restrictions on things like what to speak, where to speak, whom to speak and what to speak.
I came across a definition somewhere which talks about open organization as sharing of ideas, knowledge, resources, and skills across organizational boundaries and we can imagine that it means that hierarchy stops being the mainstay of the organizational backbone. While talking so let's dive and dig the bigger picture of this. When I turn back, I observe that this has just remained in the books of the policy manuals in human resource department. Why so? What prohibits organizations in being 'open' literally? Questions like these are quite a few of them. When I sit back to analyze them, I see a lot of factors which are an impediment to practicing 'openness' in organizations.
A Dichotomy exists when we talk about openness and respect in the same breath. There have been instances and cases in organizations where practicing openness has led to a subliminal decline in one core and fundamental value of the organization i.e. respect. People often cross the line in their endeavour of being open. This line of respect should be adjudged by both the subordinate and senior when talking about things which are either non-functional or personal.
The myth surrounding the concept of 'Open Organizations' exist. This myth makes people believe in the proposition that this 'openness' is in terms of liberty in whatever they want to speak and with whomsoever irrespective of organizational protocols. But what they should consider over here is the fact that when we talk about 'openness', we refer to ideas, knowledge, resources, and skills and not any other talks whatsoever people think about. This 'openness' should facilitate people to put across their ideas and knowledge without much of a hiccup and shedding their inhibitions. When an organization starts practicing 'openness' in this form, it enables them to generate ideas and creates an environment which is knowledge based, creative and resourceful. Building avidly engaged communities within employees can ignite the kind of passion and innovation that drive outsized results for business as a whole.
'Abilene Paradox', a very powerful term coined to explain social psychology theories of social conformity and social influence, which suggest human beings are often very averse to acting contrary to the trend of a group. It is often seen that organization which proclaim to be 'Open' is ingested with this 'Abilene Paradox'. Seniors taking a call and group of people/subordinates collectively decides to follow that which is in reality counter to the preferences of the individuals in the group is what the grim reality has been. Under such prevailing circumstances, the coinage of the organization as 'Open' is null and void.
So, I don't really see any 'openness' existing in organizations even though in some cases the policy manual says so. The art of practicing 'openness' and implementing it to the grass root calls for a more affirmative action where the dichotomy while talking about 'openness' and respect and the abilene paradox asĀ  well should not exist.