Learning and working effectively

An effective networked workplace can be viewed as a three-sided framework, with a leadership/management strategy (radical & wirearchical) that supports collaborative work enabled by social learning.

All three are necessary. If there is any degree of complexity in the work, collaboration needs to be supported by a flexible management framework that encourages social learning. This is especially true for creativity and innovation. These cannot be forced, yet many of our organizational practices still reflect cultures that do not trust individuals.

Just read any HR or IT policy of a large firm. Most do not start with, “we trust you to do the right thing …”

Jay Cross and I have been tossing some ideas at each over the past week [as he wines & dines his way through Europe] and this graphic is a result of that collaboration.

The intent of this image is to show that both directed (by the organization to get work done or to meet compliance needs) and undirected (by individuals and self-forming groups) activities make up our work and learning how to do work. We work collaboratively to get things done. We learn socially because we want to. Both are necessary but not everything can be managed. The parts in red should be self-managed (though they need organizational support).

It’s when we try to create (learning) management systems for the red parts that we get into trouble, because we’re using complicated approaches for complex areas. Read more on Cynefin:

Complicated, in which the relationship between cause and effect requires analysis or some other form of investigation and/or the application of expert knowledge, the approach is to Sense – Analyze – Respond and we can apply good practice.

Complex, in which the relationship between cause and effect can only be perceived in retrospect, but not in advance, the approach is to Probe – Sense – Respond and we can sense emergent practice.

My advice is to manage above the line and support below it. However, learning is a jagged, messy process, as the line shows, so don’t expect linear results. Stay flexible; it’s life in perpetual Beta.

4 Responses to “Learning and working effectively”

  1. Steve lambert

    Hi Harold, I used a version of your graphic today in my presentation to the rest of our learning organization. I received lots of positive feedback throughout the discussion. However it will be interesting to see how the positive the reactions are when they they are engaging in the “messy” parts of this continous learning model. It will be very necessary that we help folks understand what they are about to go through. The messiness is intentional in a sense and necessary. It will be hard to swallow in many areas of our company regardless of preparation. With your help and our teams dedication I am optimistic.

    • Harold Jarche

      I think the main challenge is the general culture of business that has developed over the past century. Too many business disciplines have been lulled into a false sense of complacency by believing in their mechanistic models which are just abstract representations of complex adaptive systems. Linear and smooth lines fit better with this mindset but don’t reflect reality.

      I’ve put this diagram out in public to get some feedback as I’m still not satisfied with it. I’m already working on the next version.

  2. Jon Husband

    Where does “personal development & growth” fit in there as a contribution to social learning ? Which I believe is central / mission critical to *learning*.

    I am guessing in each of .. modeling, training, conversations, trial & error, coaching, application, mentoring, social networking & professional development.

    Ok .. I think I just answered my (probably banal) question or point.

    But .. I suspect that it is or can be very useful to remember that an awful lot of learning can come from or accompany personal growth & development, and make us and those with whom we exchange better and more fulfilled learners.

    I am also wondering about whether or not *professional* is the ultimate (or top) objective on this journey (though here of course the context is organizational / domain-based work). We’ll find out, probably, in the fullness of time as what a profession is and what it means to be *professional* evolves, or not.

  3. Wil Houtzager

    Firts, to address the remark of Jon, perhaps ‘True Mastership’ could replace ‘professional’. In my view this covers both professional as personal growth.

    Second, to enhance learning I suggest using the approach of appreciative inquiry. This approach can be used on individual level, team level and organizational level. Also, it fits the attitude of trust instead of distrust. And it can be used on both sides of the model, the formal and informal organization. As such it encourages a more integrated culture between the formal and informal organization.


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