Structure Begets Collaboration (or Not?)August 11, 2014 4 Comments
A number of readings I’ve come across lately reference the important consideration of organizational structure and how it encourages or discourages collaboration. In a post from last week, I highlighted the book Reinventing Organizations by Frederic Laloux, which focuses on “evolutionary (Teal) organizations” that embrace an ethic of self-organization to facilitate more purpose-driven, holistic and responsible engagement on the part of organizational members. In order to encourage self-organization and intrinsic motivation, these entities adopt less formally hierarchical and fixed-role structures in favor of fluidity and networked leadership. According to Laloux, this brings more timeliness and relevance to the inner workings and responsiveness of these organizations.
I also just finished reading Everything Connects by Faisal Hoque and Drake Baer, the subtitle of which is “How to Transform and Lead in the Age of Creativity, Innovation and Sustainability.” While I take issue with some of the examples the authors choose to highlight and their particular take on “sustainability,” there are some interesting sections highlighting the network ethic at play in business, including leveraging “clusters.” Clusters might be thought of as a new twist on teams, which seeks to leverage talent in non-siloed ways and embraces self-organization and adaptability. Clusters are purpose-driven, time-bound, diverse, self-managed, and evolve according to need. The authors make the point that highly hierarchical and bureaucratic organizations make it hard for such clusters to form at the right time with the right people in rapidly changing environments.
Another source on this topic is Harold Jarche, who recently published ten year’s worth of blog-channeled thinking and writing on networked work in an ebook entitled Seeking Perpetual Beta. In a summary post, Jarche references the critical nature of organizational structure in facilitating learning in a networked age. Hierarchies are fine in command-and-control situations when context and tasks are relatively stable and predictable.
“But hierarchies are rather useless to . . . innovate and change.”
To successfully navigate complexity, organizations benefit from tools and practices that allow for transparency, learning and free and continuous connectivity. The effective “connected enterprise,” from Jarche’s perspective, embraces “wirearchy,” characterized by loose hierarchies and strong networks (rotating roles, shared leadership, trust).
Lastly, a recent blog post by Deb Lavoy explicitly asks the question about the connection between structure and collaboration. She considers different forms of hierarchy, including “push” and “pull” versions, as well as more distributed network forms – holacracy and wirearchy. Each comes with its particular set of advantages and disadvantages.
Collaboration (c0-laboring) can exist in all kinds of structures, but may appear more or less limited depending upon ultimate purpose and context. The invitation is really to see the structures that are in place and what they allow and encourage. As Lavoy writes,
“We are no longer limited to the idea that one model fits all. It’s a new opportunity to be creative and to test centuries old assumptions.”