The Open Organization: Book Review

Jim Whitehurst the CEO of the multibillion dollar open source company RedHat took to his keyboard to record and share the insights that have helped his company create a more inclusive culture and increase its productivity.  Typically books written by CEOs are used as long form SEC filings intended to woo shareholders.  Bill Gates predicted the iPhone in 1995 among several paragraphs of corporate doublespeak.  

Jim does take time to talk about his company in a positive light, but doesn’t get too much into specifics about predictions of the future.  Instead he’s more focussed and excited to tell you about how he’s learned to work with the many diverse people that make up his organization.  He openly shares insight on his methods for encouraging them to give their best effort to the company.  Throughout the book he covers his transition from a high ranking officer at Delta Airlines to working for a company that seemingly had an initially chaotic organizational structure.

The insights he provides work well with RedHat, but I work in a very structured hierarchical organization.  I read this skeptical of whether or not  I could apply those insights within my own sphere of influence.   Jim’s passion for the open organization was compelling and I began the experiment at work.  After a bit of transition costs I’ve noticed increased a more positive atmosphere at work.  We spend a little bit longer in the discussion phase–and sometimes it’s a bit messier–but the execution phase has become much shorter.  The wonderful people I manage are taking more of the right type of initiative in their everyday activities.  This initiative spreads the decision making across the organization and reduces decision fatigue not only for myself, but for other leaders as well giving us more time to focus on the tasks specific to our assigned roles.

I learned from this book that even with the most top down driven organizational architecture there’s room to include a more open atmosphere.  Doing so improves efficiency and morale.  Although we can’t tare down the 200 plus years of tradition that lead to our hierarchical organization’s success, we can layer on open organization principles and be successful.  The hierarchy gives us an efficient backdrop to leverage when necessary, while the open communication principles help us maximize our talent.  In my opinion this book can easily help any organization increase employee output.  If your meetings are lacking in thoughtful discussion this book is an easy roadmap to help you get them back on track.

The Open Organization
Hardcover: 256 pages
Audible Listening Length: 6 hours and 22 minutes
Publisher: Harvard Business Review Press (June 2, 2015)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1625275277

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