A certain amount of hierarchy is necessary to get work done. Networks route around hierarchy. Networks enable work to be done collaboratively, especially when that work is complex and there are no simple answers, best practices or case studies to fall back on. This is where real business value lies – complex work.
The above image, by Verna Allee, shows the relationship between hierarchies and networks in various domains. While most organizations need to deal with all of these domains, each takes different control methods and communications platforms. Complex work requires looser hierarchies and stronger networks, something many organizations need to improve.
As simple work gets automated, it still needs to be controlled. Complicated work is outsourced but needs to be coordinated. The high value work, as I’ve contended before on this blog, is complex (and creative) and requires collaboration to get things done. This has to be enabled by communications platforms that do more than the traditional Intranet. Enterprise collaboration tools – Socialcast; Jive; Brainpark – are the platforms for complex, collaborative work. In addition, knowledge workers need to regularly poke their heads out of these private networks and get involved in public, social networks – Twitter; LinkedIn; Facebook – which are rather chaotic. This is where they may find new ideas and create emergent value for their organizations.
All levels are needed in any large organization, and they shouldn’t be confused. Enabling the outer rings is critical for long-term success and that’s what business leaders, IT departments, HR and Legal have to enable; very soon.
Follow-up post: Embrace Chaos