Podular Organization and Edge Businesses

May 9, 2013
Podulation -- From Dave Gray's Connected Company

Podular Design — From Dave Gray’s Connected Company

In Institutional Innovation and Podular Design I noted a number of insights from the Aspen Institute’s report, Institutional Innovation: Oxymoron or Imperative?, especially that “the most important innovation challenges are now in fact institutional in nature.” As an aside, let me just note that institutions typically change in dramatic ways only over long periods of time. Think of institutions such as religion, government, the economy, and then consider the various organizational forms in which these institutions took shape across cultures over time.

One insight I have not discussed in previous posts is relevant to understanding the changing way teams work together in organizations and, by implication, in a Connected Company — as outlined by Dave Gray. Richard Adler the Rapporteur for the Aspen sessions, noted that,

“New findings about the power of collective intelligence and about the most effective ways of organizing teams are providing practical insights about how to accelerate innovation.”

To start, let’s consider many companies organize teams and then turn to the “power of collective intelligence” mentioned by Adler to see how the two relate to podular organization. Several research projects in recent years noted the fuzzy boundaries of teams in large organizations. Skilful Minds first noted this phenomena in Who’s on Your Team? Enterprise 2.0 and Team Boundaries , and then a couple of years later in Social Learning, Collaboration, and Team Identity.

In fact, the phenomena of transitory team membership is so pervasive that some people propose we analyze “teaming” rather than teams when talking about how groups organize for cross-functional purposes within, or between, companies. Consider, for example the way, Mark Mortensen summarizes this trend in team dynamics,

First, organizations increasingly require collaborations to be fluid in their organization and composition, able to adapt to the rapid changes of the external environment. Second, collaborations increasingly overlap with one another, sharing resources — including people — as those resources become more limited due to increased competition. Third, collaborations must increasingly take into consideration the different contexts within which collaborators are embedded, including locations, time zones, cultures, and languages, structures, or organizations.

The liminality of such transitory teams results from several institutional challenges including the high degree of misunderstandings that initially occur due to team members rarely having the time to translate the different ways of thinking that people bring from their professional specializations into a mutual understanding of their shared business purpose. Developing mutual understanding requires shared experiences, getting to know who you are collaborating with, not just what they do or their skills profile. In addition, conflicting functional priorities, and often a lack of clear accountability, make it difficult for such teams to remain focused on the business purpose of their collaboration.

Teams were not always organized this way. As Mortensen notes, teams in multi-divisional companies were, at one time, defined by bounded and stable team membership and common goals that interdependent work was required to meet. Cross-functional teams in such companies today are not typically defined by bounded and stable membership, and common goals are still too often related to divisional performance driven by scalable efficiency rather than a connection to the purpose of the business the team is serving.

As Brown and Hagel recently observed:

Over the last 40 years, the emergence of new digital infrastructures and a global liberalization of economic policy have increased the pace of change exponentially. Many companies that were extremely successful in earlier times of relative stability are now finding that their relationship architectures are fundamentally misaligned with the needs of their business today. As the pace of change increases, many executives focus on product and service innovations to stay afloat. However, there is a deeper and more fundamental opportunity for institutional innovation—redefining the rationale for institutions and developing new relationship architectures within and across institutions to break existing performance trade-offs and expand the realm of what is possible.

Institutional innovation requires embracing a new rationale of “scalable learning” with the goal of creating smarter institutions that can thrive in a world of exponential change.

The challenge then remains how to enable organizations to adapt to their ecosystems by enhancing access to flows of knowledge that are likely to result in learning. Leinwand and Mainardi recently observed that permanent cross-functional teams tend to fare better than transitory teams in engaging organizational ecosystems. As they note:

We’ve recently seen a more robust cross-functional construct emerge, one  with an overarching organizational structure, based on building and maintaining a distinctive capability. Members of these capabilities teams are assigned permanently to them, reporting there rather than through a functional hierarchy.

Permanent cross-functional teams provide an institutional basis for what Hagel and Brown refer to as edge businesses that develop within large-scale enterprises, noting that such companies “should resist the temptation to confront the core, and instead  focus on opportunities on the periphery or at the ‘edge’ of their businesses that can scale rapidly.” I suggest below that Dave Gray’s conception of podular organization affords an important insight regarding how the institutional innovation of edge case businesses can develop and organize. Read the rest of this entry »

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On the Roots of Social Computing

November 17, 2011

I recently received an invitation from Mads Soegaard, Editor-in-Chief at Interaction-Design.org to offer those who read this blog an early view of a new chapter on Social Computing in their encyclopedia. I’m a little late on this writing for you to get a pre-publication view of the chapter but I wanted to make sure and point it out for those who take topics like social computing seriously. Thomas Erickson wrote the chapter. To be candid, I didn’t really know much about Thomas until I read it. He seems like a very interesting person. Thomas’ chapter takes seriously the point of an early comment I made in a post here in 2008 on Social Software, Community, and Organization: Where Practice Meets Process, specifically my point that not enough of the influential discussion on the topic took seriously the roots of what it means to do social computing.

The distinctions involved are as old as the study of social interaction in organizations, especially the characteristics of routine work. However, we don’t need to go back to the 1950s when the distinction first emerged in the study of industrial organization to understand the significance of Ross’ point. Indeed, the early 1980s will do. Rob Kling discussed computing as social organization as early as 1982 in Marshall Yovits’ edited series on Advances In Computers. Drawing from the symbolic interactionist tradition, Rob distinguished between a line of work which, he contended, indicates what people actually do in computing work, compared to formal descriptions of that work, or what we might today refer to as business processes. Kling’s work was one precursor to the focus on computer supported collaborative work  (CSCW) in studies of group collaboration, most notably developed at Xerox PARC.

The social roots of social computing are important for influentials to keep in mind as they discuss current developments in Web 2.0 technologies, especially their use in the enterprise. The point is not a simple academic exercise of giving credit to what came before. Rather, it is to take note that the distinctions made explicit…regarding practice/process are as old as the modern, hierarchical organization and seem to survive regardless of the way communication technology is applied in it. Those who discuss tensions between social software and Enterprise 2.0, or learning management systems and eLearning 2.0, are pointing to persistent challenges in how organizations work.

Thomas’ chapter provides an excellent overview of the roots, history, and development of the concept of social computing as a concept that promises to stand the test of time regardless of the labels used to describe it, e.g. Web 2.0, Social Media, Social Business, Enterprise 2.0, etc. I recommend anyone involved in current discussions related to compound nouns like social media, social business, social “this” or “that” take a look at Thomas’ chapter as well as the Interaction-Design.org encyclopedia which offers in-depth analysis of such topics.


Social Learning, Collaboration, and Team Identity

March 4, 2010

Harold Jarche recently offered a framework for social learning in the enterprise in which he draws from a range of colleagues (Jay Cross, Jane Hart, George Siemens, Charles Jennings, and Jon Husband, all members of the Internet Time Alliance) to outline how the concept of social learning relates to the large-scale changes facing organizations as they struggle to manage how people share and use knowledge.

Harold’s overall framework comes down to the following insight,

Individual learning in organizations is basically irrelevant because work is almost never done by one person. All organizational value is created by teams and networks. Furthermore, learning may be generated in teams but even this type of knowledge comes and goes. Learning really spreads through social networks. Social networks are the primary conduit for effective organizational performance…Social learning is how groups work and share knowledge to become better practitioners. Organizations should focus on enabling practitioners to produce results by supporting learning through social networks.

Indeed, Jay Cross suggests that the whole discussion needs framing in terms of collaboration, and I tend to agree. Yet, saying social learning occurs largely through collaboration means delving into the subtleties of how social networks relate to the organizing work of project teams as well as to their performance. After all, much of the work done in Enterprises involves multidisciplinary teams, often spread across departments, operating units, and locations.

One of my earlier posts posed the question Who’s on Your Team? to highlight the importance of social networking to establishing team identity and enhancing knowledge sharing across distributed, multidisciplinary teams. Its focus was on the importance of social software applications in the Enterprise to the ability of distributed project team members to recognize who is on their team at any point in time, and who isn’t. Organizational analysts refer to the challenge of establishing team identity as a boundary definition problem for teams, when members are spread across large distances whether geographic or cultural in nature.

Read the rest of this entry »


Informal Learning in Health Care 2.0

August 19, 2009

transform-masthead

Update:

The presentations from Transform are now available online. Take some time and listen to these videos if you are in the least interested in how to transform health care. 


Health care is increasingly gaining attention as an area in which innovation involves informal learning, and many of the other topics that go along with using Web 2.0 to engage people. The current debates at the national level about changing health insurance carry with them an underlying focus on innovation in the design and delivery of healthcare services, an area referred to for several years as Health Care 2.0. And the Mayo Clinic is always at the top of the list when innovation is discussed in healthcare. So, it isn’t a surprise that the Mayo Clinic is sponsoring a symposium in September focusing specifically on innovating health care experience and delivery.

The symposium includes a number of segments with intriguing topics. However, the two I find most interesting are the Redefining Roles and the Content, Community, Commerce, Care, & Choices segments. It looks like a promising experience for those fortunate enough to attend.

Redefining Roles
This segment will introduce the emerging roles of disruptive technology and business model innovations in making products and services in health care affordable and accessible. It will touch upon the evolution of health care delivery systems — particularly hospitals — from geographically-centered and costly entities to decentralized and more focused operations. Participants will be introduced to emerging business models in health care, including facilitated networks — online communities of people who help to teach one another about how to live with their diseases. This segment will also explore the notion that health care can be designed to minimize the degree to which it disturbs peoples’ lives.

Content, Community, Commerce, Care, & Choices
Communities of people are sharing health care-related content online. This has come to be called “Health 2.0.” Individuals and organizations have built business ventures around sharing content. But what does it take for these models to evolve into reliable facilitators of wellness? How can these communities link with existing bricks-and-mortar care delivery systems in ways that help people in their journey to wellness? What are “microchoices” and how might they be more powerful than all of health care?

My interest in using communities to enhance the service experience goes back several years. I had not considered their application to health care services until recently when an associate pointed me to several hospitals using social media to connect with patients. It looks like a promising area for innovation and highlights the relevance of informal learning to health care services. 

Thanks to Tim Brown at Design Thinking for the pointer to the Mayo symposium.

Posted by Larry R. Irons

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Social Business Design: Insights from HP’s WaterCooler

July 15, 2009
snakes_handling

Social Media Snake Oil?

Does your organization approach using social media in its business as something to fear or as something to evangelize? Several recent observers note that incorporating social media into business involves changing the culture underlying communication patterns and decision-making in many large organizations.

Amber Naslund, for instance, tells us that adopting social media means changing the mindset on how to do business. In particular, she says using social media in business means “giving your customers a visible, valuable say in how you do things, and having the faith that doing that is just good business.” On the other hand, Caroline Dangson, of IDC contends enterprises aren’t yet sold on social media and that “there are executives still fearful of the transparency that comes with the social media spotlight.” Specifically, Caroline says that,

Corporate culture has everything to do with adoption of social media. I believe the number one factor preventing full adoption of social media is the lack of executive trust in employees. This culture is about control and creates a workplace of silos. This type of workplace is not set up to be social and the silos are barriers to worker productivity.

So, here social media sits, between fear and faith. Needless to say, the truth about social media’s implications for business design lies somewhere in the middle. The fact of the matter, as Todd Defren tells us, is that we need to begin seriously discussing “how Social Media Thinking will impact the greater whole of the company.”

As noted in an earlier post, keeping in mind the distinctions between formal, process-oriented organization and informal, practice-based organization is crucial in thinking through the collaborative challenges posed by social software for enterprises and designing for the experiences supported. We can learn a bit about the complexity of the challenges involved by considering a recent framework offered on social business design by the Dachis Corporation team and discussing the way it relates to a recent report on an experiment in enterprise social media at the Social Computing Lab of HP Laboratories.


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Social Business Design and Multichannel Team Collaboration

July 7, 2009

hub

David Armano recently asked the question, Is the Hub and Spoke Model Adaptable? Anyone who ever worked on a project team in a large organization, especially corporate enterprises, probably recognizes the hub and spoke team design depicted in the graphic above. In this post I take a closer look at the hub and spoke design’s purpose in hierarchical, bureaucratic, organizations–the kind associated with industrial society. Our next post discusses how David answered his question and what an adaptable hub and spoke model implies for social business design.

Project management, typically consisting of one or more team leads clustered in the hub, considers the failure of any spoke’s functional work practices to align with approved best practices as evidence of process ignorance, a failure of competence in following the detailed process requirements in the team’s project plan, not a failure of the organization’s adaptive capability. The hub and spoke model’s basic idea is that a matrix-organization, consisting of cross-functional project teams, optimizes the traditional hierarchical organization by adding increased flexibility in responding to market demands for innovation in products and services, and maintaining adherence to a standard management process. However, as Rob Cross and Robert Thomas observe in their recent book, Driving Results Through Social Networks,

…most projects and processes are enabled by productive networks that form among some (but not all) team members in combination with relationships that bridge to key resources and expertise outside of the team.

In other words, much of the collaborative effort going into innovation projects also involves social networks that aren’t part of project teams. Instead, these networks emerge from relationships with others in the enterprise, or from outside friends and associates. Perhaps this is one of the reasons that some research into geographically distributed teams shows that on average, only 75% of the employees on any given distributed team agree about who is, and who is not, on their team. The challenge increases in importance as project teams form and disband more rapidly to manage risk and opportunity, thereby increasing the already fuzzy distinctions of formal organization, i.e. official teams, and informal organization, i.e. social teams.

Ross Mayfield summarized the point well in the following observation:

Process is “how work should be done.” And Practice is “how work is actually done.” When process fails (exceptions), people use practice to fix things. When process doesn’t exist, practice fills the void. While people don’t realize it when they engage in practice, they actually are tapping into community — an informal social network within or beyond the enterprise to discover expertise and get things done. The problem is that we haven’t had the tools to support good practice. The problem is that we haven’t developed the group memory around practice that creates institutional leverage. In fact, we still design organizations to prevent practice and cultures that hoard knowledge and communities. 

I suggest that the real value of social business design comes from the promise it holds for enabling management practices to develop to deal with the following fact:  Social networks do not respect organizational walls, they never did.

Shared experience, not just shared information, is fundamental to the social networks underlying collaboration and innovation. Many, if not most, employees don’t only need to get to know one another through reputation systems, like who people tag as possessing expertise. As Thomas Vander Wal continues to point out, comfort with one another is needed to develop a shared experience that encourages the open sharing of information.  

Collaboration means getting to know that other employees possess expertise on this or that topic, but also developing comfort with one another by sharing significant symbols relating to self, family, friends, and social activities, thereby understanding one another as people. Shared experience with co-workers and customers is a key factor in innovative business practices. It is especially important to multichannel collaboration.

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SharePoint is not Enterprise 2.0 or Social Networking

March 18, 2009
social_stack1

Social Software Stack

The title for this post is drawn from a recent assessment of SharePoint 2007 offered on Thomas Vander Wal’s bog, Personal InfoCloud. Thomas’ post, as always, offers a unique point of view on what Enterprise 2.0 consists and, specifically, how SharePoint measures up. He isn’t offering his own formal assessment as much as reporting the stories clients and potential clients shared with him over the past couple of years. The social software stack, in particular the difference between collective understanding and collaborative understanding, frames Vander Wal’s perspective.

Given SharePoint’s widespread use, and the growing interest in applying social media applications to collaboration challenges in organizations, Thomas’ discussion deserves wider attention. His overall impression is well summarized in the following point.

SharePoint does some things rather well, but it is not a great tool (or even passable tool) for broad social interaction inside [the] enterprise related to the focus of Enterprise 2.0. SharePoint works well for organization prescribed groups that live in hierarchies and are focussed on strict processes and defined sign-offs. Most organizations have a need for a tool that does what SharePoint does well.

This older, prescribed category of enterprise tool needs is where we have been in the past, but this is not where organizations are moving to and trying to get to with Enterprise 2.0 mindsets and tools. The new approach is toward embracing the shift toward horizontal organizations, open sharing, self-organizing groups around subjects that matter to individuals as well as the organization. These new approaches are filling gaps that have long existed and need resolution.

In other words, SharePoint works well for situations in which defined groups need to reach a collaborative understanding of project requirements, their role in achieving those objectives, and what success means for the project. It works less well in providing resources allowing people across the enterprise, and across teams or departments, to discover connections with others and develop social relationships for networking together in ways that meet both personal and organizational challenges.

  Read the rest of this entry »