Informal, Social, Wirearchical Business

Our motto is that “six heads are better than one” at the Internet Time Alliance, and I have the pleasure of working with and learning from a great collaborative team, spread across eight time zones.

1. Jon Husband’s working definition of Wirearchy is “a dynamic two-way flow of power and authority, based on knowledge, trust, credibility and a focus on results, enabled by interconnected people and technology”.

I believe the shift in power and authority is showing up in clear ways all around us, for better and for worse.  The shift can be seen in daily events and in the ways peoples’ working lives and behaviours are changing, in the ways they are becoming more or less well-informed, and in consumption patterns for much of what they are buying and using.

This is a good description of where our work is focused: enabling organizations to become more “wirearchical”.

2. Wirearchy requires trust, and Charles Jennings explains how trust relationships are powerful allies in getting things done (focus on results) in organizations.

If we’re working in L&D [learning & development] strong trust relationships with senior leaders and middle managers are vital. Without a high level of trust any L&D manager will find it almost impossible to embed a culture of learning in their organisation.

3. The way we think of work and learning has to change in consideration of the dominance of networks (technical & human) in business. I have called this Work 2.0 and here are some suggestions on how to get there:

  • Think and act at a macro level (what to do) and leave the micro (how to do it) to each worker or team. The little stuff is changing too fast.
  • Engage with Web media and understand how they work. The Web is  too important to be left to IT, communications or outside vendors.
  • Use social media to make work easier or more effective. Use them to solve problems for you.
  • Make yourself and your function  redundant. Teach people how to fish and move on to the next challenge. If you’re maintaining a steady state then you’ve failed to evolve with the organization and the environment.

4. Business has always been social, especially at the higher levels of management and this is now part of everyone’s work. We are all inter-connected. Jane Hart explains how social media can be used for workplace learning. Instead of just training, there are five types of learning that should be supported by the organization:

1. IOL – Intra-Organisational Learning – keeping the organisation up to date and up to speed on strategic and other internal initiatives and activities
2. FSL – Formal Structured Learning – formal education and training like classes, courses, workshops, etc (both synchronous and asynchronous)
3. GDL – Group Directed Learning – groups of individuals working in teams, projects, study groups, etc Even two people working together in a coaching and mentoring capacity
4. PDL – Personal Directed Learning – individuals organising and managing their own personal or professional learning
5. ASL – Accidental & Serendipitous Learning – individuals learning without consciously realising it (aka incidental or random learning)

5. Social and informal learning are not just feel-good notions, but have a real impact on an increasingly intangible business environment, as Jon Husband & Jay Cross wrote:

In the network era, things you can’t see are more valuable than things you can.

Twenty-five years ago, intangibles accounted for less than a third of the value of the S&P 500. Today, intangibles can make up more than 80 percent of that value.

“Intangible assets — a skilled workforce, patents and know-how, software, strong customer relationships, brands, unique organizational designs and processes, and the like — generate most of corporate growth and shareholder value,” wrote NYU Professor Baruch Lev in Harvard Business Review in June 2004.

Corporate decision makers say their goal is to increase shareholder value. In a networked, information-based environment, shareholders value brand, reputation, ideas, relationships and know-how. These assets don’t appear on the balance sheet [yet], but more and more often they provide a corporation’s competitive edge.

Jay Cross: The social learning revolution has only just begun. Corporations that understand the value of knowledge sharing, teamwork, informal learning and joint problem solving are investing heavily in collaboration technology and are reaping the early rewards.

6. Clark Quinn & Jay Cross have described the new role of Chief Meta Learning Officer required for a wirearchical organization that supports informal, social learning in order to get things done.

Corporate culture is becoming more participatory. Authenticity, transparency, sharing, experimentation, peer power and togetherness are what it takes to succeed in a networked environment. As the tendrils of communications networks slither through silos and corporate boundaries, network values become the default organizational values. Cisco, which lives and breathes networks, is an example of baking network values into a corporate culture.

In Summary

My colleagues and I have thought a lot about workplace learning and we have been involved internally and as consultants with a wide range of organizations. Our thinking comes from experience, critical observation and forward-thinking assumptions based on patterns and trends. We are certain that organizational change is a business imperative and that social and informal learning are important paths to remaining innovative, and staying in business.

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