We live in amazing times. We have an opportunity to reshape our organizations and societies and make them more responsive, adaptive and efficient.

Digital is a blank canvas. We could equally create a dystopian society with constant surveillance and more and more people losing their jobs to software and robots. However, one thing is certain: It is our choice.

Never before in human history has there been more belief and power among the masses, and as little respect for the elite and establishment. If we don’t transform our societies into better places, there will be nobody to blame but ourselves.

The Web can be like lightning. Huge energy but often uncontrolled. There are signs that this energy is being productively harnessed by groups, teams and communities that operate outside the establishment, the elite, the management structure. The future is in teams and teamwork.

In this future, is management an endangered species? In an age of collaboration and smart teams, what’s the role of traditional management? How does it add value?

When it comes to digital transformation, management — and particularly senior management — is often the problem rather than the solution. You can’t transform the organization and still hope to retain the same organizational structure.

It never fails to surprise me how dysfunctional most organizations are, and how despite this dysfunctionality, they still manage to survive, and often thrive. Most organizations are soulless places where purposeful work is rare. They are often living off their past, have one really successful product or service, or are a monopoly. Maybe they’re just lucky to still be around. Their luck is about to run out.

Learning Opportunities

"After three years of struggling to drive employee engagement and retention, improve leadership, and build a meaningful culture, executives see a need to redesign the organization itself, with 92 percent of survey participants rating this as a critical priority,” a 2016 paper by Deloitte University Press states. “The 'new organization,' as we call it, is built around highly empowered teams."

If you want to get a sense of what this team-driven future might look like, I would highly recommend reading Frederic Laloux’s "Reinventing Organizations." In it he presents a vision of an adaptive, nimble organization where there is leadership everywhere and where teams make the decisions. What’s missing in Laloux’s vision is management, or what we understand today as management.

In my experience of digital transformation, senior management has nearly always been an obstacle. It is either not interested or engaged. It sees digital transformation as an IT project; just buy the right technology. Or when it does get involved, it is more interested in the brand, the images, the colors, the messages it wants to communicate.

Digital transformation is first and foremost cultural and organizational. It is inherently network-based and distributed. The old organizational hierarchies and silos are blockages to true digital transformation.

Digital is fluid and adaptive rather than rigid and planned. It distributes power rather than concentrates it. The powerful are only powerful because we give them that power. In a digital economy, customers and employees have an unprecedented potential power. But it must be used.

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