Transforming Fear to Joy

In its simplest — and possibly best — definition, shared governance incorporates shared leadership and participative decision-making.  As near as I can surmise from my research, the concept of shared governance has its roots in the academic institutions of the 1970s (primarily universities) when consensual decision-making was at its height.  Fast forward 40 years, and we still see its evidence in academia as well as in some aspects of environmental planning and management.

In the current academic world, shared governance has morphed into two practices:  1) using elected representation to give groups of people a share in making key decisions, and  2) empowering certain groups with primary responsibility for specific decisions.  Although the intent of shared governance is for those who are affected by the decision to be part of the decision-making, the complexity of a 5000-person constituency may necessitate these more flexible participative practices.

All in all, the practice of sharing leadership and participating in decisions that affect one’s well being is still not mainstream in the corporate, educational or political sectors.  In these arenas, the transition from expert rule (bureaucratic command and control) to experiments in shared governance where active participation is fostered and rewarded has been tentative and limited.  The global groundswell of the Occupy movement attests that we are not adequately or rapidly responding to constituents’ needs.

On almost every public issue [education, healthcare, race relations, land use, crime prevention, poverty, homelessness, mental illness], there is a lack of cooperation and coordination between residents and public employees.  Citizens are often unaware of the nature of a public problem, the steps they might take to address it, and how they might get assistance.     Matt Leighninger

Nonetheless, real pockets of cooperative change are amassing.  Corporate recognition of global economic complexity and our need for multiple perspectives in order to innovate and adapt is growing.  As an example, redesign in the healthcare arena, from a previous command and control structure into a shared governance system, realized these outcomes—

•  decreased turnover
•  decreased absenteeism
•  decreased burnout and emotional exhaustion
•  enhanced nurse-physician relationships
•  increased satisfaction
•  decreased work-related injuries
•  decreased medical errors

Shared governance elevates nurses from employees just doing jobs to
professionals sharing in health care decision-making with other
     Dr. Tim Porter O’Grady, DM

Redesigning traditional management coordination to empower an entire workforce’s decision-making voice registers real impact on a business’s ability to innovate and to improve its bottom line.  I think it is safe to say that this is old news.  When asked to contribute in meaningful ways, employees feel and see their personal stake in the success of the organization.  So how do we transform command and control into shared governance?  In essence, by ensuring that those who will be affected by the change design the new system.

As an organization design consultant, my role in working with clients addressing this type of change has shifted from designer to design facilitator.  I use high-level design and planning processes like the one illustrated below to ensure everyone in the system participates in redesigning for adaptation and innovation.

6 Cs Planning & Redesign Process
6 Cs Planning & Redesign Process

What meaningful contribution would you like to make in your current workplace?

What one step can you take today to begin to bring this desire to fruition?


Lapworth, Susan.  2004.   Arresting Decline in Shared Governance:  Towards a Flexible Model for Academic Participation, Higher Education Quarterly, Vol. 58 (4), 299-314.

Leighninger, Matt.  2006.   The Next Form of Democracy:  How Expert Rule is Giving Way to Shared Governance . . . and Why Politics Will Never Be the Same, Vanderbilt University Press.

Author: Helen Maupin

Author: Helen Maupin

Helen is passionate about transforming fear into love — from her, for her, for all. She expresses her commitment to transformation through writing poetry, self-awareness and yoga books, co-designing organizations into adaptive enterprises and deepening her daily meditation and yoga practices.


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