There is growing awareness that current organizational structures can breed irresponsibility. That is, arrangements are created where people are less able to be responsive in helpful ways. This happens, for example, when accountability is bottlenecked in hierarchies and decision-making is distanced from where the action is most timely and relevant.
In The Responsible Business, Carol Sanford writes about how rigid hierarchy can impede personal and organizational caring. Her commentary could easily apply across sectors and is not necessarily about the lacking emotional realm of organizations, but about their relative disconnectedness from those and that which they are there to serve, and how this has an impact on their long-term health and ability to create value. As she writes:
“The challenge is to replace practices that distance and disconnect with ones that evoke empathy, caring, and creativity. . . . It is difficult to experience caring for other beings without connecting to them directly and seeking a deep understanding of their uniqueness.”
For me, this is a call to thinking more like a network. Networks are about focusing on connections and cultivating dynamic relationships. They are about flipping what is typically a top-down and center-focused orientation to seeing “the periphery as norm.” They are less interested in fixed roles and honoring credentials and more focused on valuing contributions, from wherever they may come. They are less interested in command-and-control that breeds group think, and more in welcoming diversity and divergence that yields complex systemic and adaptive intelligence.
The core skills of working in networks, it would seem, are keys to being more responsive and responsible:
- Seeing patterns
- Cultivating trust
- Making connections
- Creating space for emergence
- Supporting self-organization
How might your organization or change effort benefit from embracing more responsible structures and thinking/working like a network?