Oss municipality, a networking organization
2014- The municipality of Oss employes approximately 800 people. These employees are spread across 3 services: city policies, municipal corporations and public affairs. Each of these services is divided into different departments.
There is a new way of operating in which decision-making is decentralized. The autonomy of the employees is magnified because they are increasingly operating in networks. In order to reach effective and efficient cooperation in a network, they must be able to take decisions together with external partners without having to consult with their immediate manager.
According to city manager Marie-Louise Van Schaijk, ‘’today’s society is too complex and dynamic to be run only from the city-hall’’. As a networking organization , the municipality of Oss is part of various partnerships. Van Schaijk’s idea is ‘’ to make use of the knowledge and skills around us." Currently the strength and knowledge of society is still underused. By working together, the expectation is that solutions are found that better reflect the needs of society. In order to work effectively and efficiently, cooperation with external parties in networks is necessary. Depending on the issue at stake, in different networks different parties are represented, including businesses, educational institutions, citizens and other government bodies. The term network organization was introduced by the management team in 2013. Because of the lack of a clear definition of the term ‘network organization’, in spring 2014 a group was set up to reach a better understanding of the meaning of this expression. They investigate within the municipality how the new way of working is carried out and collect successful stories and examples to disperse to the employees.
Method of working
One of the changes occuring when operating in a network is a new way of working in which employees are given more power in decision-making processes. Indeed, employees in a network should be able to negotiate with external partners without having to turn to their manager for every new proposal. They have a mandate from their manager to make a decision within preconditions. Within these parameters, one can start looking for solutions, and only when a solution does not fit the parameters one has to consult with the manager. This means that managers must have faith in their staff and let go of their control. In 2010, a start has been made at the municipality of Oss ,with the transition to telework which has led to less hierarchy and having more confidence in the staff.
According to this new method of working, the municipality itself is no longer meant to perform all of the tasks and to be the ruling party, but it functions instead as only one of many parties. Because of this, the municipality’s staff should now have many more consultations with stakeholders and work together with them to make decisions. This requires a change in competencies of the municipality’s officials. They have to learn that their idea or viewpoint is not necessarily the only one or the best one , but that other parties may know better.
The new method of working also calls for a changing role of citizens: they need to feel involved and should be willing to give input to the plans of the municipality. An example hereof is the redevelopment of a street. Whereas beforehand the plans for street redevelopment were made without input from citizens; today a draughtsman of the municipality makes plans together with residents in the street about their wants and needs so that they are included. This way a best possible result is achieved which satisfies most stakeholders.
Even though Oss is still searching for the exact meaning of working as a network organization, many positive results are already visible, Employees participate in consultations of different networks much more than before. Most adapt well to their new role. They take decisions independently from their manager and involve other parties in the decision making in a coequal way in orderto achieve good results together. Among employees, confidence in their own skills has grown. They dare more to voice dissenting opinions about plans from higher management. This leads to a wider range of information which often leads to higher efficiency and quality of implemented management plans because they are better thought out.
The changed relationship between the municipality and its citizens is conceived variably. On the one hand, some citizens appreciate their new role. For instance the greening services look after a piece of land less frequently because one the residents likes to garden it. On the other hand, other citizens have more resistance in involving with the municipality’s work: they believe that, since they are paying for municipal services, they also shouldn’t have to get involved.
Not everyone among the municipality’s staff is making decisions independently, and not all managers have confidence that their employees can take decisions independently. This is understandable because decentralized organization necessarily leads to non-uniform relationships between managers and employees. In the municipality there is a tension between setting rules and giving confidence. The municipality is used to working in a bureaucratic way where everyone is equal, and officials would prefer to set standard rules to make sure anyone gets the same treatment. In order to make a decision, it is easier to abide by the rules because they are fixed and they do not require the effort of making decisions based on trust, feelings, relationships and interaction. To overcome this tendency, managers should have confidence in the officials to act independently and give them space to make mistakes.
Source: cases, articles
Sector: Public sector
Theme: collaboration with external partners, dynamic management & leadership