Tag Archives: factory model

Wirearchy by Design: Principles of the 21stC Networked Org

The #orgdna community is hosting a monthly Twitter Chat on topics in OD, using a quarterly topic “series ” format to build on core ideas in-depth.  For 1Q16 we looked at challenges of Transformation. 2Q16 took us into System Thinking to help us understand models like the age-old silo. Now, for 3Q16, we move to a deep dive on Structure and Flow in organization design.

JULY 2016.  Most organization designers have hierarchy deeply burned-in to their mental models, so much so that anything else simply seems foreign and non-viable.  Progressive thinkers challenge those older models, helping structured thinking give way to org paradigms that are more akin to notions of flow, adaptation, and movable borders. The concept of networked structures comes into view. And things start to get interesting.

Jon Husband is a well-known leader in the global conversation of networked organizations. His concept of wirearchy dates back to the late 1990’s, when the internet was young. It provides a powerful challenge to our thinking at the outset. Can people or leaders organize themselves to do useful work if they abandon structure in favor of simple connections? Or can the structures co-exist?

Let’s find out.  Our chat for MON 7/18 9 p.m. ET sets out to explore Wirearchy, and it’s implications. We have invited Jon Husband himself to join us, and we look forward to the exchange. Here’s our high-level discussion outline, with questions actually surfaced in bold:

  • Q1. Wirearchy defined. Does a network design in itself foster collaboration? Why?
  • Q2. Can structured vs. network approaches co-exist?
  • Q3. What factors influence success/adoption of Wirearchy or principles like it?
  • Q4. Do complex problems or relationships fare well w/ Wirearchy? Does complexity play a role in this?
  • Q5. What are entry points for Wirearchy to take hold? How can understanding spread?

We hope you will join us. We’ll gather in the #orgdna “lobby” (virtual, of course) a few minutes ahead for some brief introductions, and as always, we’ll see where the conversation takes us. Send your messages via Twitter including the hashtag #orgdna; we recommend a streaming tool like Tweet Deck, to see consecutive comments as they flow in.

Looking forward to this. Stay tuned for more on structure and flow for 3Q16. We’ll see you online !!

Chris (aka @sourcepov)

 


Rethinking the Silo: New Designs for Structure and Flow in the 21st Century Organization

In our monthly #orgdna chat, we’ve been discussing the future of the 21st century organization. Some have begun to rethink what is possible. Some have argued, as I have, that leaders should orchestrate their organizations rather than trying to control them, embracing more collaborative models for getting things done. Why?

In short, dynamic models account for the need for organizations to respond to change. Adaptability is a requirement. And resources (e.g., information, people, funding) must be allowed to flow across department/functional boundaries when and where they are needed.

Sadly, silos remain predominant. It’s what everybody is used to. It’s the 100-year-old factory model still being held up as the handbook for modern business. Think about any bureaucratic organization you’ve encountered. They are built in silos that sub-optimize elements at the expense of the whole. They embrace standards, at the expense of change. And perhaps worst, they are virtually programmed to survive.

The good news:  there are some alternative ideas and models in play that set out to change the rules, topics that are worth a deeper dive. So let’s have a look.

First, lets revisit our path:

  • In April, we looked at system thinking (link) as a means to model the structure and flow of the typical silo-based organization, to identify bottlenecks and counter-productive motivators.
  • In May, we deconstructed the silo (link), looking at specific reinforcing flows that create problematic influences, beyond our best intentions.
  • Now, in June, it’s time to look at silo improvements, exploring alternatives to challenges and gaps we’ve identified.

Let’s start with a picture to get us thinking, a visual prompt for ideas that can be complex and abstract when left to words.

Here’s an excellent image offered by a regular #orgdna contributor, Valdis Krebs. The concept of Wirearchy (more) was first coined by Jon Husband in 1999. It is a useful model to explore the alternatives to the organizational silo:

With reflection on this picture, we can resume our Q&A, a dialog on silo factors and alternatives, informed by the Wierarchy idea and fueled by system thinking. Let’s consider ways for:

  • Q1. Restoring Critical Feedback. Adaptation depends on a critical feedback loop, and in silo’d orgs this is often blocked. What new mechanisms could allow feedback to flow across and within silos?
  • Q2. Freeing/Reallocating Critical Resources. We’ve all seen hoarding of financial and human resources within silos produce a negative outcome. What can be done to prevent or discourage this?
  • Q3. Solving Fragility for Resilience. We’ve learned silos that hone deep expertise are fragile or obsolete when demands change. 21stC forces demand adaptability; organizations are seeing shifts in their markets and technology base; operating units must learn to function under new rules. This can be the most daunting kind of change of all. How do we foster adapability and a new resilience?
  • Q4. Optimizing for the Whole. The classic negative silo-driven outcome is optimization at the department or component level, while hurting the larger organization. What is needed to circumvent this self-defeating path?

As we discuss alternatives, let’s continue to use system thinking as a guide. What forces are at work? What controls are increasing, decreasing, or blocking the flow of critical resources? How might these be influenced?

The #orgdna community meets monthly on organizational learning and leadership, typically 3rd MONDAYs at 10 pm ET. Simply sign on to Twitter at that time, and use the hashtag #orgdna to follow the conversation. If you can’t attend, the transcript will be captured in PDF form and linked in a comment to this framing blog post. Prior transcripts are available in a similar fashion, as comments on the respective monthly post.

It’s always a lively exchange. All are welcome. We hope to see you there.

Chris (aka @sourcepov)


Deconstructing Silos: Visualizing the Flows and Forces of Organizational Gridlock

Every organization is a mish-mash of people. From my experience, most are working very hard but still struggling to get things done. Good leaders know there are myriad forces at work, ranging from culture to incentives to policy and process, all of it strung together by the organization’s structure, the infamous org chart. Unpacking this complexity to address problems can be daunting. But there’s some hope. I believe the tools of System Thinking, popularized by Peter Senge and Donella Meadows, can help us visualize the vital flow of resources and the forces that shape them.

The classic structural curse of most large modern organizations is, of course, the functional silo. So often these common structures bring us face to face with gridlock and productivity issues. They are the essence of bureaucracy. We need to understand why.

System Thinking can help us unpack the forces that create/feed the organizational silo, with simple tools to help us understand what is causing and perpetuating them. 

With some pictures, foot notes, and conversation, we might even discover pathways to alternative models.

What exactly is System Thinking? We started unpacking this last month. To recap, let me share a few simple systems. Picture water flowing in and out of a bathtub, influenced by the spigot and drain positions. Or imagine money flowing in and out (mostly out!) of your checking account, driven by bills, purchases, interest rates, etc. While these are very basic systems, they are intuitive, helping us visualize flows we process subconciously in our day to day. They are simple metaphors to get us into a System Thinking frame of mind. The rest unfolds quickly:

System Thinking, in a nutshell, is a way to show the forces and flows that are influencing how systems work.

You’ve seen impromptu examples on white boards in every company. Often they’re pictures of how work is or should be getting done. The best ones can help us understand structural issues in our approach, helping us find ways to fix them.

Organizations are systems too. Resources flow in, through, and around the various structures and substructures like departments. Whether those resources flow or don’t flow is significant. These are factors that can determine what works and what doesn’t work in a given company. In fact, I will argue that the organizational silo is a product of good ideas (like specialization and quality control) gone too far. It’s worth a deep dive. We often engage in ritual attacks of org silos, but we rarely spare the time to understand why we have silos in the first place. What’s worse, there’s no real focus on why our silos are so hard to break through, or, importantly, what we can do about them.

This diagram is an imperfect first cut at some of the flows impacting, feeding, and sometimes fortifying the silo’d functional organization.

Key forces at work in the organizational silo, through a System Thinking lens. Discussion at #orgdna. Content (c) 2016 Chris Jones. Reuse with permission.

Key forces at work in the organizational silo, through a System Thinking lens. Discussion at #orgdna. Content (c) 2016 Chris Jones. Reuse with permission.

Let’s use our scheduled monthly #orgdna chat to attack this. We’re on tap for MON 5/16 at 10 p.m. ET.  We’ll take 60-90 minutes to discuss these forces and others. We will challenge the picture and it’s implications using the following discussion outline:

  • Q1. Discuss the reinforcing flow of reducing variance to drive improvement. Does it cause silos to form & harden?
  • Q2. Discuss feedback constraints. In the name of focus and specialization, how can this hurt adaptability?
  • Q3. Discuss communication constraints. How does this impact calcification and reduced resilience?
  • Q4. Can a manager takes steps that could allow quality & specialization but avoid silo formation?
  • Q5. What’s missing in the diagram?

I hope you will join us. Our #orgdna conversations are always lively. This one promises no less. We’ll start a little early if folks are around. Just sign on with Twitter with an app like TweetDeck, and follow hashtag #orgdna. Include it in your tweets, and join the conversation.

See you Monday.

Chris Jones (aka @sourcepov)


The Nature of Fear: Are We Paralyzed by Conformity?

AMG121606a-dilworth-leaves

Conformity in nature and human nature. Survival is at our core. Are we afraid to be different? Where has Darwin taken us?

Understanding the notion of conformity is important when we talk about culture, inside organizations and out. It’s become a key driver in our thinking. As we’ve discussed, our mindset is subtly but deeply influenced by our own vauge perceptions of things are supposed to be, consumed by a feeling that our survival may depend on our ability to fit in.

Can we actually be paralyzed by conformity?

To Margaret Wheatley, there’s no beating around the bush. She says we are. Consider these excerpts from A Simpler Way (1999):

“We have terrorized ourselves by the thought of evolution, driving ourselves into positions of paralyzing conformity, for fear of getting things wrong .. (where) extinction will follow swiftly on the heels of any mistake.”

“.. fear is the darkest of Darwinian shadows.”

Wheatley likes to cut to the chase.

Can we find examples to support her claim? I think they are plentiful, and they are all around us. Consider:

  • a consumer culture that thrives on conformist based purchasing (think: brands, trends, styles)
  • social circles that favor (or outright demand) fitting in
  • work environments that favor the status quo, resisting alternative viewpoints
  • education systems increasingly riveted to standards
  • organizations that cling to structure/hierarchy over more dynamic/collaborative modes of interaction
  • a Western busiess culture modeled upon repeatable, uniform, mechanistic models of efficiency

Much has been written (by me and others; see also a book by C.Christensen, and a great RSA animation by K.Robinson), on the downside of our mechanistic, structure-focused paradigms. It’s thinking that makes us slaves to someone else’s blueprint. Our culture and our thought processes seem literally consumed by the conformist view.

Can we break the cycle?

I say yes. If we can find ways to fundamentally change our mindset.

I’m intrigued that in the very same book, Wheatley goes on to describe patterns and rules in nature that seek to discover what works. Conformity, perhaps, is not all bad, like a tree seeking a greater share of critical sunlight, or vying to expand its rainfall catching potential. Have a need for more light and water? Grow a little taller. Sprout some more leaves.

AMG121607a-dilworth-leaves

A better, more useful frame might be: conform if it’s working, adapt if it’s not.

Ultimately, I think it comes down to a balancing act. So often, we don’t see a choice. Conformity of purpose is important where precision, quality and scale are required. But when we limit our exploration of new ideas or way of doing things, we cut off our chance to learn, to innovate, and to grow.

Conformity can be a trap. And it can also be our saving grace when we frame it as a repeatable pattern, a platform for new possibilities.

Both. And.

The #cdna community hosts a periodic exploration of social learning, a deep dive into the factors that help us learn together. We seek to identify enablers that help us discover, and the barriers that tend to keep us from learning.  At our next discussion, let’s tee up these questions on conformity in the context of culture:

  • Q1. What reactions or thoughts does mention of comformity tend to trigger?
  • Q2. Can we advance metaphors for conformity that focus on upside (tree leaves) and caution of the downside (factory model)?
  • Q3. If you agree with Wheatley on the dark side of Darwin, why does conformist thinking carry a special risk?
  • Q4. Can we influence the cultural implications that conformity introduces? How?

I can help on that last one with a hint: if you’re a Peter Block fan, you’ll know the answer to “How?” is almost always “Yes!”  Our next #cdna chat is slated for Monday March 10th at 8pm ET.

Bring your ideas and an open mind. We hope to see you there.

Chris Jones (aka @sourcepov)


Can Leaders Adapt? Improving Team Dynamics (Ch.15)

In a world where many if not most leaders cut their teeth as managers, it’s small wonder the bias at the top of organizations and teams is for controlling outcomes.  As we’ve discussed, there is a strong bias for structure baked into our industrial paradigm.  Most teams are run with the precision of factories.

Can leaders adapt to different models? Better still, can they learn adaptive behaviors, in general?

I explore precisely that challenge in Chapter 15 of The DNA of Collaboration. In our virtual book tour, we’ll explore some of the key concepts:

  • Q1. Viewing leadership as an art, how can we change our bias from structure to flow?
  • Q2. Music and fine arts offer leaders alternative views to how things work; can we borrow a stage, brush or canvas?
  • Q3. One goal of any team is affinity, aka common ground: how fast can we get there?
  • Q4. Diversity is key as well. Does our affinity goal represent a paradox?
  • Q5. In a high stakes world, how can leaders, like artists, learn to let go, experiment, take risks?

Hope you’ll join us SAT 11/3 11am ET. We use hash tag #cdna. You can click here at the appointed hour to join the conversation using TweetChat.

Hope to see you there.

– Chris Jones, aka @sourcepov, author


KMW12 Workshop W5 in Washington DC: Book author Chris Jones will be discussing the Flow of Insights

Excited that our author, Chris Jones, will be speaking at KMWorld in Washington, DC on 10/16, leading Workshop W5: Knowledge Networks and the Flow of Insights.  The session will be a great opportunity to delve into aspects of The DNA of Collaboration that deal with the collaboration process itself, including roles, space/venue and synthesis.

See the SourcePOV blog for more on the planned 3-hour session.  Registration is still open at the KMWorld site

Also, you’ll find more about the event in the news, courtesy PR Web.


Collaboration DNA: The Dilemma of Culture (Ch.10)

CHARLOTTE, NC. By CDNA author

For organizations that seek change, few factors are more important than creating the right culture. Lou Gerstner said it was the main issue in the transformation of IBM from hardware to services.

The challenge is that few understand what it is, or how it works.

It can be hard to define, because it works in subtle ways. It shapes the behaviors of people in an organization, but it is also shaped by them, in a two-directional flow of influence. It reflects how people in the organization have come to view success, over time. Executives can try to shape it, but without significant investment in the effort, surface attempts to force change routinely fail.

I’ve covered these dynamics in Chapter 10 of The DNA of Collaboration, based on research I started in 2010 on this fascinating topic, recounted in my original 8-part blog series.

Today, let’s attack 5 of the main dynamics that the most important to understand:

  • Q1. How can we navigate the complex layers of Org Culture, eg. professional, hierarchy, generational, demographic?
  • Q2. Which Org Culture model do you see most: Control, Silo, or Network? Can they coexist?
  • Q3. What happens in Cultures where contrarians rule? 
  • Q4. Can Organizations have a Culture of trust? If so, how?
  • Q5. Can employees make a difference  and influence change?

We could go on for days on these topics, and perhaps we need to. These are the complex problems that motivated my research, that over time turned into the book. I kept seeing dysfunctional behaviors in organizations large and small, and set out to discover what what happening.

It’s not just about culture, of course. But culture is where so many of the issues surface, on a scale that’s maddeningly difficult to influence. Ask Lou Gerstner. Ask your CEO. Ask yourself. Is the culture of your organization empowering it’s employees for success?  Is there something employees can do about it?

Looking forward to our chat.