networked organizations

11Feb10

It’s like  a sheep swallowed by a python – it gradually moves through the whole system.

phyton eats sheep

phyton eats sheep

It needs an organizational transformation to enhance responsiveness and to adapt to a mature use of the media-landscape. The participatory solution – now offered by agencies to “just do it” is not a sustainable solution and could even back-fire if your organisational system is not wired for this arena.

independence & interdependence

The problem space for most organizations is the assumed paradox between empowerment and coordination – independence and interdependence. If employees need to be able to respond to opportunities and changes as they happen, organisational theory suggests employees need a considerable amount of independence to feel empowered to act. Yet today’s complex activities also require a great deal of specialization, coordination and interdependence. To unravvel this assumed paradox it is adviced to deny the urge to control and to create an environment that convenes and supports resilience and self-management.

Research indicates that size matters – units must be small enough to maintain a sense of family (the amount varies but around 200 seems an important human systems limit.) Organizations can be larger by federating these units together, but it is essential that each unit is empowered to make most of its own decisions and gets direct feedback from the market it serves to turn decentralization and semi-autonomous divisions into a resounding success. One wa to make sure that units will not to the point where not everyone knows everyone else, is to limit the reantal of physical space: it should be very comfortable for about 150 people and will become crowded and difficult as the group size reaches 200.  Ideas of cell-like structures have also been practiced and published by Eckart Wintzen in his book Eckart’s notes.

Also leadership rather than tight management should create the social architecture within which the business lives. At Kollmorgan Corporation decisions are made by peers rather than organizational superiors, people meetings give all employees a voice in runnig the business and as part of the annual review process, employees evaluate their supervisors. Build on vision rather than commands, and emphasize clear and open communication, simple procedures and a clear confidence in people. This is probably the most sensitive area of change, because essential for cementing the necessary alignment profit sharing and a significant voice in decision making are crucial, unavoidable elements. To transform the conversation from “they decided/they told us” to “we decided, we did or we planned”  the organization has to stimulate trust-building integrity. To achive this you need operating principles that guide interrelationships.

W.L.Gore&Associates (Gore-tex) founded by Bill Gore the succesfully flattened out the organization, eliminated titles and created a “lattice organization”  When a new associate joins the company, he is not assigned a job but he finds something that needs doing. This generally means becoming part of a work team or creating a new one. In which an already established associate will act as sponsor. The leadership within the group is not assigned but comes from whatever natural leadership develops. Objectives are set b those who must make them happen and tasks/functions are organized by commitments between the associates. They use four guiding principles:

  •  “be fair in your dealings with each other, with suppliers, with customers and the community where you live and work”.
  • freedom is the source of innovation crucial for long-term success”
  • “the culture insists that when you have committed, you keep your commitments
  • the principle of the water line – before any action is taken consult with your associates to obtain their agreement, we are all in the same boat!”

Intrapreneuring

Gifford Pinchot describes an intrapreneur as someone who takes hand-on responsibility for creating innovation within an organization. For intrapreneuring to work, intrapreneurs need to be allowed to follow through with their project and they need to be able to make most of the decisions about its development. The organization needs to provide them with guidelines to work within. Intrapreneurs are rewarded with ‘intracapital‘ – an internal account funded from the profits of the intrapreneur’s successful innovation and available to that intrapreneur as capital for future projects. Such a system would convert corporations into confederations of innovative teams.

trust-building integrity

Structure is derived from skill & knowledge rather than hierarchy. Teams are the basic organisational unit and manage mutual responsibility. Teams consist are multidisciplenary and consist of 5-8 employees with different backgrounds. Each employee resides in min. 2 teams to stimulate cross-functional solutions and thinking from a broader perspective. The team is responsible for developing shared meaning and norms for behavior. Each team defines a network of relevance: first ring nodes are established with teams that they have formal (interdependent) realtionships with. They define and agree on an explicit set of protocols about their overlapping responsibilities. A second ring of teams is identified with whom it is relevant to exchange information. Individual teammembers are stimulated to maintain active in personal-professional networks (outside the identified teamnetwork). And frequent dialogue is stimulated especially with the start-up/brainstorm phase of a project. This is the opposite of an “ingroup developed final communique” which is not a constructive way to network.

Amoebe networked structures

Amoebe networkes structures

In short teams are the essential building blocks of the new type of organizations, they are created, evaluated and managed by peers. The organization provides guidelines to safe-guard open transition and shared meaning about the culture and promote the one objective: earn money and enjoy doing it. The enjoyment involves the sociability, the celebrations, the friendships, the teamwork and the feeling that what you are doing is worthwhile and is recognized. If necessary certain resources that you need can be mitigated to the plant cluster organization (staff).

Will organizations become amoebe-like creations, and what could biological-evolution learn us about the ethical-attitudinal challanges that excist in such an environment?

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