Creating the “WE” Organization

Creating the WE Organization

Years ago, NASA ran a series of experiments on the best way to make decisions. They used a series of survival scenarios, and asked individuals in a large group to solve the challenge and rate themselves. Then they asked small groups to solve the problems and rate their performance. About 98% of the time, the groups received better scores than the individuals.

Meeting Today’s Business Challenges

Fast forward to today’s business challenges where we face the same question—do individuals or groups make the best decisions? Today’s market requires that our organizations are agile, their people are able to work across boundaries of all kinds, and they must be able to collaborate to get things done. Today, more than ever before, it’s about We, not me. The rugged individualist and the sharks cannot survive in a world where we are increasingly interdependent. So, what kind of organization can survive complexity, volatility, and uncertainty on a global scale? I believe it is what we can call the “WE” organization.

What does the WE organization look like?

  • Its culture is based on principles, not power or politics.
  • Building and maintaining high trust is central to how people work together—not fear.
  • There is a clear strategic direction.
  • Strategic decisions are made by consensus among the senior leadership.
  • Leadership is situational rather than positional. Everyone has the capacity to lead at any given point in time based on their knowledge and skills.
  • Individuals subordinate their personal self-interest to the good of the whole.
  • The workforce owns the work processes.
  • There is transparency in how the organization operates. Secrecy creates distrust.
  • The organization’s design is flat and team-based; gone are the days of the pyramid.
  • People work collaboratively for the good of the whole. Independent achievers need not apply.
  • Accountability happens at the level of self, within teams, and based on results.
  • People are rewarded in part for achievement of organization goals, in part for their team work, and in part for their personal development and contribution to the whole.

Most organizations don’t look like this today. But there are examples of businesses moving in this direction. The WE organization is the future. It is the kind of culture that will attract and retain millenials as well as future generations. It is agile, flexible, innovative, collaborative, and self-sustaining.

Beginning the journey

The way to begin this journey is to assess where you are, e.g. is “me” more important than “we”? Do politics run rife? Do silos prevail? Is there hoarding of information? Is individual performance more important than team and organizational performance? After assessment comes a conscious choice to shift the culture. Then a strategy for culture shift is created, the workforce is engaged, and the change process begins.

It’s a journey worth taking if we not only want to survive, but thrive.

Do you agree with the need for a WE organization?  Are there other characteristics of a WE organization?  What other ideas or feedback do you have?

Photo Credit: FlickR, Fredrik Alpstedt

About the Author

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Edward Marshall

Faculty Dr. Edward Marshall is an adjunct professor at the Fuqua School of Business at Duke University, and Managing Partner of The Marshall Group, LLC, where he works with companies to build leadership cultures based on trust and collaboration. You can contact him at:, 919.265.9616.