The EFMD business magazine

The EFMD business magazine

Organisational design for a socially dynamic organisation

organisational design for a social dynamic organisation
The Socially Dynamic Organisation is evolved: it is strong not simply through formal hierarchy, infrastructure and governance but rather through innovation, agility and the strength of its communities.

It is fundamentally reimagined from those organisations that came before: no longer a remnant of Victorian architectures of power and control but rather fluid, dynamic, interconnected, permeable to expertise, reconfigurable and deeply fair. I’ve been sketching out a representation of the core pillars of the Socially Dynamic Organisation, and how they relate to this evolved capability (See Figure 1 in PDF)

I’ve started with Purpose.

Even the most utilitarian organisation needs strong purpose or, at least, it does if we want people to invest their engagement. Around this I have arrayed six core aspects of the Socially Dynamic Organisation: Community and Technology are central, bordered by Equality, Innovation, Controls and Leadership. Let me share the thinking behind this structure.

The Socially Dynamic Organisation is facilitated by technology: lightweight, interconnected, rapidly disposable and agile. It is also grounded in collaboration: the ability to create and segment spaces for the various communities. We are on the brink of widespread impacts from automation: machine learning and AI as well as robotics.

Integration of this technology into a holistic vision, a core purpose, is key: if we view technology as primarily about efficiency or cost saving we are missing its ability to facilitate and transform, to leverage capability.

But we must not assume that technology operates in isolation of social power: will the adoption be fair, will it reinforce communities or decimate them? The Socially Dynamic Organisation must be in balance with technology, not simply excited by it.

socially dynamic organisationCommunity is everywhere: we need to maintain a dynamic tension between our formal and social systems, between the formal community that is held within a hierarchy and the social community, which is held in bonds of trust and mutual respect.

We need deep expertise in forming and hosting these communities, as well as a willingness to unlock and listen to them. Our key challenge is not engagement: it is in listening to the outputs from engagement. As the community starts to shape and share its interpretation of the story, are we willing to learn, to listen? The community is where a central part of our agility lies; not in systems or process but in people.

Equality sits front and centre, although I wrestled with what the relationship was between equality, fairness and trust, all aspects of a rebalancing, a better vision for a better, more socially connected organisation. I stuck with Equality in the central ring as it is something we should never forget: we have not won the battle for equality yet and it is one we need to continue to fight, while finding ways to phrase and understand it in differentiated global contexts.

Controls is an overarching term to address the overall mindset of the organisation towards control: does it seek to cage complexity and risk within bonds of rules and process or does it have a fluid and responsive approach to compliance: is it willing to learn from the community or simply to view community as something to control?

The Socially Dynamic Organisation will be guided, not simply governed. It will see that risk is a fuel for change and not just a black hole to be avoided.

Innovation is really an output from the Dynamic system, but it sits here, at the central space, because it will be a feature of our new organisation: a natural home for creativity, an ability to innovate, not for special occasions but as part of our everyday capability. Innovation will be commonplace within a Socially Dynamic Organisation, and expertise will lie not in owning and controlling it but in a wise methodology and approach to let us hear weak signals, to gently nurture tender shoots. Innovation is a boiling energy that can be nurtured or provoked: if we build the right organisation around us, we will become able to hear, to access, this energy. But only if we create the conditions.

socially dynamic orgFinally, Leadership sits as the sixth central aspect of the Socially Dynamic Organisation: specifically, its ability to balance both formal and Social Leadership: formal authority being that which is given to us by the organisation, within a hierarchy, and Social being the reputation-based authority that we earn within our communities. Social Leadership is the oil in the machine: it flows through and around the formal aspects of the organisation, and both unblocks and speeds up our ability to be agile.

I am going to play further with this structure, which I will likely use in a book on “change”, which explores how organisations change and why we must build the Socially Dynamic Organisation to thrive in times of constant change.

Our widest challenge is one of Organisational Design: many of our organisations are built upon principles of power and control that are simply outdated in the Social Age. As technology iterates ever faster, as social constructs evolve rapidly to utilise this democratised power, as pressure mounts for organisations to be fairer, more equal and socially responsible, we need new organising principles to work from, and the work around the Socially Dynamic Organisation will remain my evolving attempt to capture that design.

See more articles from Vol.11 Issue 02 – ’17: Digital Age Learning.

Writer, Researcher, Captain at Sea Salt Learning. I help individuals, and Organisations, get fit for the Social Age.

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