Creating the AAA Organization

For an organization to be agile and adaptive, the people in it need to be aware of what is happening around them, have alternative pathways to gather information and knowledge, and must be allowed to act to meet/solve both local and global goals/problems.  They need to both work in their hierarchy and in a self-organizing network simultaneously! – Valdis Krebs, Orgnet

How can an organization build awareness, investigate alternatives, and act on complex problems? The organization needs to connect the outside with the inside. This is not a technology challenge but rather a structural one. Organizations need to help knowledge flow and this only happens when people are connected. Technology is a facilitator, but people are the key. This is too often overlooked, as in most enterprise social network implementations, where mere training is bolted on at the end of the technology build. Awareness, alternatives, and action can each be supported within a unified organizational framework.

Wirearchy: 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. – Jon Husband

To let knowledge flow, people first have to become responsible for their own sense-making. This reverses the existing practice of corporate training that is designed centrally and distributed through the hierarchy. Personal knowledge mastery (PKM) is a set of processes, individually constructed, to help each of us make sense of our world and work more effectively. People can learn more and connect to diverse knowledge networks outside the organizational walls. To remain relevant, organizations have to become less hierarchical and more networked. The first step is connecting to external knowledge networks, a key part of PKM. Increasing connections, developing meaning, and improving autonomy are necessary skills in the network era. PKM ties these into an easy to understand framework: Seek > Sense > Share.

With every worker actively practicing PKM, seeking new knowledge and making sense through experimentation, then communities of practice can form to promote knowledge-sharing. Professional communities of practice connect the work being done with the ever-changing external world. They are an essential safe place to fail. Organizations need to support and reinforce existing communities, not build these as if they were project teams. People only share complex knowledge with others whom they trust. This takes time.

Finally, the way work is done needs to change to reflect a wirearchy. Hierarchies can be temporary agreements to get work done, but the general organization structure has to be much more flexible, enabling self-directed work teams. Loose hierarchies and strong networks can help build a functioning wirearchy. The AAA organization is an evolving work in progress, adaptable to a changing environment but first each worker needs to master sense-making and then workers have to organize in communities to make sense together. One challenge for traditional organizations is that a core aspect of PKM is critical thinking, or questioning assumptions, which may be threatening to command & control management systems. But as Valdis states, “Awareness and alternatives are useless without the ability to take action on them.” Giving up control so that people can take action is the essence of the AAA Organization.


9 Responses to “Creating the AAA Organization”

  1. François Lavallée

    Love the diagram!
    The triple A reminds me of something I have been using for a decade now : the triple A!
    In French :
    Apprentissage : that would be the Awareness
    Appartenance : belonging to a group
    Application : or Action

    This triple A “philosophy” as I call it was the basis for my community of practice of trainers that has been meeting quarterly since 2003.
    I have to admit… your diagram sheds a new light on the whole thing… as usual!

  2. Aurélien

    Very interesting post! And helpful for me to understand a research lab as an AAA organization where the autonomy is given at all different levels of the hierarchy. I believe we can have a company that develops and improves the autonomy of workers on specific area and not for other areas. For example, I have seen some universities which promote awareness, alternatives, and action in research without considers that is relevant in teaching. So just a question: can we imagine a company more or less like an AAA organization ? I hope I’m not confused.
    Ps: sorry if there are English mistakes, I’m learning English.

  3. Valdis Krebs

    Thanks for riffing off of my AAA theme! The three As actually emerged from network research on adaptive organizations that Orgnet, LLC did with the IBM Consulting Group in the late 1990s. We continued the research to get to the bottom of Adaptivity (ability to agilely adjust) [yes, I love alliteration] by examining even more networks of adaptive and non-adaptive organizations. We have actual network measures to see how “AAA” your organization really is — it is like a CAT-scan (insightful, but not sufficient) — allowing you to “see the sociology” in action in the organization. It is easy to see the hierarchy in your organization, we can now map (and measure) the wirearchy also! These measures are like general medical measures your doctor performs on you to assess your general well-being, they are not like accounting/financial measures, which have stringent rules and expectations.



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