What virtual organisations can learn from linux communities

I came across an interesting paper, Management and Virtual Decentralised Networks: The Linux Project, published in First Monday in October 2001 by George Dafermos as part of his Masters Programme in Management at Durham Business School in the UK.

The paper explores in detail the Virtual Networked Organisation paradigm and uses the Linux Project and its development model as a case study to try and identify critical success factors for virtual organisations.

Even though the paper is nearly four years old it provides an excellent in depth foundation to the topic (with 66 pages and nearly a hundred references).

The three main points which I took away were:

  1. The importance of management in creating the environment for effective virtuality

  2. The importance of the communications platform as a key evolving and and enabling element in the overall organisational ecosystem

  3. The need for talented and committed resources in virtual endeavours and the challenges in securing them


Exploring each of these in a little more depth...


Management in the Virtual Organisation


The author concludes that three things are critical from a management perspective:

  1. decision-making should be based on merit (and not on status) and be transparent throughout the entire organisation

  2. the organisational and project design should maximize organisational learning and empower big teams to collaborate digitally

  3. the focus should shift from Organisational Dynamics to Economic Web (Network) dynamics


Virtual technology as a "Virtual Roof"

George introduces a concept he calls “The Virtual Roof” which refers to the electronic mechanisms by which the virtual organisation communicates

“The virtual roof is the common denominator of the users, the implementers and the surrounding community and acts as intermediary (as a trusted third party) to ensure trust in a largely anonymous virtual marketplace by providing an electronic platform whereby network communication is nurtured”.


The Top challenge for a virtual organisation – attracting the needed talent!

The paper suggests that one of the biggest challenges in any virtual organisation such as Linux is attracting the abundant brainpower (a 'legion of workers') needed to support massive decentralised collaboration.

For such a venture to work and be truly creative four conditions are suggested that should be met:

  1. The users and the implementers overlap or communicate directly without interference of a filtering layer-mechanism - implementers and users have common objectives

  2. The organisational 'copyleft' is put into place to reward and encourage transparency and sharing of information

  3. Deeply rooted trust within the surrounding community-network

  4. Fluid networked organisational structure that gives rise to positive hyper competition and meritocratic self-selection of task owners

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