Wirearchy in practice

So far, wirearchy as a managing framework for networked business and organizatons is the only one that makes sense to me, which is why it has a category of its own here.

“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”

A while back, Jon Husband parsed wirearchy to see if it still made sense, and it does. In looking at the parts of the framework; they are, for the most part, embraced by progressive organizations:

  • knowledge – check
  • trust – check
  • credibility – check
  • results – check
  • interconnected people – check
  • interconnected technology – check

However, there are not too many places where you actually see “a two-way flow of power and authority”. Actually, the only place I’ve seen this two-way flow is in cooperatives or loose networks, like our group, the Internet Time Alliance. I’ve recommended before that the training department inverse the hierarchical pyramid, but can corporate management do this? Can there be a real two-way flow of authority? We have a two-way flow of authority in democracies, but this usually flows up the the pyramid only every four years or so.

Corporations were created to give limited liability to organizations that were taking on large, capital-intensive projects. Today, many corporations are based on intangible goods and services, like software or processes. Do we still need a corporation to enable wealth for post-industrial businesses? Open source has shown that software can be developed faster and cheaper (and many would say better) without a corporate structure. There are alternatives.

We should be looking at alternatives to the corporate model because networks are not markets and networks require structures that are more flexible and can respond faster to change than hierarchies. I’ve said before that work in complex environments require faster feedback loops. Social networks, which are comprised of people that we trust in some way, can speed up feedback loops in our problem solving at work. However, to do this, we have to already have that connection. The organization has to incorporate social networks as part of its structure and perhaps that is the first step in developing a wirearchy: giving explicit permission to engage in social networks and bypassing, or even obsolescing, the formal communications structures.  If the work still gets done, you don’t need the formal structure any more, and you’re on the road to becoming a wirearchy.

9 Responses to “Wirearchy in practice”

  1. Jon Husband

    Trust and credibility can be pretty tough to find, consistently, in many organizations; I’m glad you said progressive.

    What I think is interesting in this era is that there’s more trust and credibility in peoples’ personal (first- and maybe second-degree) connections. Those attributes are what hold the networks together and keep them functioning.

    There’s a ‘scalable” lesson in there somewhere, as well as an ‘architectural’ principle for larger organizations, as Dunbar’s Number(s) come into play.

    • Harold Jarche

      In thinking about wirearchy, I ask, “will it scale?” but then again, maybe it doesn’t have to scale at the organizational level, as the network will scale.

  2. virginia Yonkers

    It’s tough to have credibility and trust when you can lose your job at any moment or the company is afraid of what resources a trained worker might take to a competitor. It seems to me that Wirearchy will require a societal and cultural change for it to work.

  3. Jon Husband

    It seems to me that Wirearchy will require a societal and cultural change for it to work

    Yes .. and the evidence that such changes are non-negotiably necessary seems to be available everywhere, if we just look around .. no ?

  4. Kristy Bloxham

    Looks like Continuous Improvement theory to me; see “An evolutionary model of continuous improvement behaviour” (Bessant, Caffyn, & Gallagher, 2001). Many companies practice these principles and have found that reciprocal communication and respect create more productive work environments that keep employees. Adding technology to the practice just allows for additional communication options. Employing CI doesn’t take societal and cultural change, just a willingness to see value in every person. I for one have no problem with that.

  5. Kristy Bloxham

    Giving an employee more power and authority for improvement within their own level of responsibility encourages employees to be vested within their jobs. Allowing for collaborative improvement within the organization begets further loyalty. In my opinion, the hierarchy of power and authority is just an illusion anyway. If you ask anyone in 90% of corporations today who holds the power, they will tell you it is the computer administrator.

    The Shingo Prize for Organizational Excellence has been awarded to companies since 1988 that exhibit high caliber continuous improvement practices, including the empowerment and involvement of employees. This thinking is not new.

  6. Jon Husband

    This thinking is not new.

    You’re right … empowerment of employees related to more open communications and greater involvement with respect to responsibility and accountability has been around for four or five decades at least, and ids embodied in core OD principles and socio-technical systems theory and practices.

    It’s just that many of today’s pundits are too young or relatively ill-informed, and so think that all the brouhaha about “social” business and “social” learning is completely new.

    It’s not .. what is new is the interconnected interlinked infrastructure and easy-to-use tools and services that make the promise of empowerment seemingly more accessible and tangible.

    That empowerment remains one of the most difficult aspects of moving to higher performance is also not new (ask someone like Chris Argyris), and is relatively unchanged since oh, several decades ago .. and that has a lot to do with the current (and dated) models of organizational structure.


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