A network organization is resilient and sustainable.

One of the largest barriers in several organizations is that many managers still tend to think using hierarchical paradigms. Targets, management on result, and control remain the magic words. Let alone the traditionalists with their “I am the boss and I know what needs to be done” attitude.

What’s the alternative?

What works better is transforming your organization into a network organization. Why would you want to do that? Not only because it resonates well with what is common in the social arena, but especially from the iterative design thinking standpoint, a learning organization and innovation which arises in an almost natural way – making the organization resilient and sustainable, well-fitted to deal with the challenges of the ever-changing environment in which it operates.

It’s about communities.

Okay, but what is a network organization and how and why does it work? Roughly speaking, a network organization is about communities and community management, raising the question of how you build communities. Organizational communities arise via two nodes: central persons and professional content.

Connector nodes involve people with informal power.

The central person route fits with the way organizations operate as formally structured as well as informally driven. The atmosphere of the informal aspect is noticeable: think of the grapevine, around the coffee machine, at people’s desks, and small talk on the work floor. You often already have key people, so-called connectors who know who’s who, know many people, have contacts throughout the organization and across all departments, and they get things done by connecting people from throughout the organization. These connectors come from all layers of your hierarchy.

Content nodes are about themes.

The professional content route is about networks based on themes, projects, focus points, going-concern and growing-concern points of attention. Think, for example, of how open source software comes to be thanks to many extremely talented individuals – with well-paid jobs – who are prepared to invest much of their discretionary time for free, simply because a project interests them or they are passionate about what they do.

We are already device driven.

The way society works today is device-driven. We already have a way of networking, socializing, sharing interests, and problem-solving which transcends geographical and societal boundaries. And your colleagues don’t leave this way of life at home when they go to work – whether you or the organization want them to or not. You do better by harnessing this almost natural way of cooperation and collaboration. It immediately helps fulfilling your co-worker’s need for connection. So part one of creating a network organization is ensuring online and offline (social) networking is in place. In other words, facilitation in terms of technology and resources so the organization can get out of people’s way, so they can do what they need to do.

Then the community managers.

Facilitation is not enough. You as leader need to identify themes and get the people in the organization to come up with work-related content issues they are faced with in getting their jobs done. You then set up content nodes and invite people to join. And you need to identify the key person to become the community manager – a connector who sees to it that the right people get themselves involved in the node.

The autonomy aspect

The beauty of a community is membership is by choice. Yes, a connector gets the message around, but in the long run, the coworker decides whether the node is interesting and important enough to warrant expending his or her time and energy on. And because it’s about something they’re in the know about, joining a community supports their need for mastery too. Just by creating communities you fulfil your co-workers’ needs for connection, mastery, and autonomy!

The iterative aspect

Communities work on the basis of not knowing where the road is leading you. It’s about harnessing the power you already have in-house to face challenges you don’t even know up front that you have. It’s innovative, it’s self-learning, it’s sustainable!

In a future blog, I will write about the role you as leader need to fulfil to transform your organization away from the traditional (hierarchical) way of thinking.