Wirearchies are smarter than the sum of their parts

Many parts of knowledge work have been routinized and standardized with the ongoing marriages of business processes and integrated enterprise information systems. What has not changed much yet is the adaptation of structures and culture to permit easily building flows of information into pertinent, useful and just-in-time knowledge, or fanning out problem-solving and accountability into networks of connected workers. —Jon Husband

Chee Chin Liew’s 2010 slide presentation on moving from hierarchies to teams at BASF shows how IT Services used their technology platforms to enhance networking, knowledge-sharing, and collaboration. The slide on the character of communities (#14) shows one approach to “building flows of information into pertinent, useful and just-in-time knowledge”.

character of communitiesAdapting these ideas to a model that promotes a “dynamic two-way flow of power of authority enabled by interconnected people and technology” shows how knowledge can flow in order to foster trust and credibility. Creating this two-way flow of dialogue, practice, expertise, and interest, can be the foundation of a wirearchy.

wirearchy foundation[Note: I might rename Dialogue to Coordination in a future version.]

Work in the network era needs to be cooperative and collaborative, and organizations have to support both. This may not be an easy transition for companies based solely on unified leadership. Collaboration is not the same as cooperation. Collaboration means working together, with an objective, and usually for a boss. This can work well when the objective is clear and the conditions do not change. Cooperation means sharing and helping others without expectations of direct reciprocation. Cooperation helps to strengthen networks, without central managerial interference. In times of rapid change, and decreasing lifespans of companies, cooperation trumps collaboration.

In complex environments, weak hierarchies and strong networks are the best organizing principle. While many companies today have strong networks, they are too often coupled with strong central control. Becoming a wirearchy requires new organizational structures that incorporate communities, networks, and cooperative behaviours. It means giving up control. The job of those in leaderships roles is to help the network make better decisions.

connected enterprise.003As markets get more complex in the network era, most business value is created through innovation, not process improvement. Innovative ideas come through loose social ties and diverse opinions. Companies therefore need to push work beyond the practice layer and out to communities and networks. Openness improves task coordination, so that all problems can be seen. Transparency can improve collaboration to get tasks done better. In such a work environment, trust emerges. With openness and transparency in place, cooperation with more diverse knowledge networks can then lead to real business value. Hierarchies  are merely simple control networks, while wirearchies are complex human networks.

Let me once again put forth my Principles of Management for the Network Era: It is only through innovative and contextual methods, the self-selection of the most appropriate tools and work conditions, and willing cooperation that more productive work can be assured. The duty of being transparent in our work and sharing our knowledge rests with all workers, as well as management.

We need to undo our dominant  business models which are the legacy of military hierarchies because they are inefficient, ineffective, and stifle innovation. Hierarchies are only as good as the smartest gatekeeper. Wirearchies are smarter than the sum of their parts.

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