Democracy at Work?

In one of my favorite movies, Monty Python & the Holy Grail, there is a humorous exchange between a bewildered King Arthur and an annoying peasant:

Peasant: Now who does he think he is?
King Arthur: I am your king.
Peasant: Well, I didn't vote for you.
King Arthur: You don't vote for king!
Peasant: Well, how'd you become king then?

This scene came to mind today after an exchange with Gautam Ghosh about Ricardo Semler's experiment in Brazil with workplace democracy.

Semler's achievement does sound remarkable...revolutionary even.

But the reason I have my doubts about implementing workplace democracy is simple. In most companies, the real organizational structure is a power hierarchy populated by superiors and subordinates.

Although the manifesto at ChangeThis is well written and compelling, the predominant corporate culture is not a democracy. Quite the opposite, it is more like a medieval fiefdom of lords and serfs. The serfs work the land at the leave of the lords. At any moment, the lords can dismiss one, a few, or all of the serfs.

Most of the folks running corporations are far from the enlightened view of Ricardo Semler. They may be Boomers or post-Boomers, but they were raised in command-and-control cultures. It is all that they know. Like King Arthur.

What they fail to realize is many side-effects that are produced, including the erosion of employee loyalty.

Sad but true, I'm afraid.


Chris Bailey said…
Terry, the scene of dialogue between Dennis, the constitutional peasant, and Arthur in MPATHG has to be one of my very favorites (especially where Dennis retorts that "strange women lying in ponds distributing
swords is no basis for a system of government."

BTW, have you read Peter Block's Stewardship. It's from 1992 and he comes to many of the same conclusions that you do about the fact that our organizations today operate more like benign autocracies (though some are clearly not so benign) than democracies.

In our organizations today, we use leadership as an enlightened tool. Yet, most of the time, it becomes a way for those at the bottom and middle of the hierarchy to give up their own responsibility. And then get angry, frustrated, and disenchanted when the leaders above fail them.

As Dennis might say, "Supreme executive power derives from a mandate from the masses, not from some farcical aquatic ceremony." :)
Terrence said…
Hey Chris.
Welcome to my blog.
Not only am I a Monty Python fan, but I am a Peter Block fan as well.
Glad you stopped by.

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