Emergent Community

I’m using a series of pieces to explore aspects of the Socially Dynamic Organisation and, today, my thoughts have turned to culture and community. I often describe ‘community’ according to two principles: shared purpose and shared values. Shared purpose can be imposed, whilst shared values must emerge from within the system itself. You cannot impose shared values, only create the conditions for them to emerge. Dependent upon the co-existence (or otherwise) of these two factors, a community can be either ‘coherent’ or ‘incoherent’, e.g. if it has shared purpose and values, it is ‘coherent’. If It has been given shared purpose, but lacks shared values, it may still function on one level, but be ‘incoherent’ in culture e.g. not bonded by trust and values.

Emergent Culture

In some cases, an incoherent community may be enough, if, for example, we simply need task based activities completed (peel these potatoes), which require little in the way of creative problem solving. It’s worth noting though that, if we do not nurture community, it may find shared values in opposition to the system itself e.g. united in it’s mistrust of the organisation.

I worked for six weeks in a factory once, earning some money straight after some university exams. My job, mid summer, was packing Christmas boxes of aftershave and deodorant: not a glamorous assignment. I worked with eleven other people on a conveyor belt, each of us with a specialised task: assembling the box, putting in the insert, placing the deodorant into it’s correct space, adding some seasonal packing material, closing the box, sealing it shut, packing the completed box into a crate. If ever there was a job awaiting automation, this was it. I was literally filling in time until they invented it.

Aspiration vs Culture

We were, most definitely, a community created and moderated externally: a team formed by the organisation, entirely outside of our own control. And an interesting thing happened: when you took the place on the line to pack the deodorant, you were given a tool to open the boxes that it came in with. A stranger (from another team, a team of box pushers) would wheel a large box over, and you would slit the top open with a short knife. If you were not careful, you would cut the top layer of plastic bottles as you did this, ruining them. Naturally, i was careful not to do this.

Until the day we figured out that the system was rigged.

We were not paid a bit rate, rewarded for the speed and efficiency with which we worked, but rather simply for our time: we worked at the speed of the conveyor belt until the end of the shift. And we assumed that all the conveyor belts went at the same speed. But they didn’t.

If production targets were down (i assume, unless it was a random act of exploitation) the belt would slowly speed up, so our hourly production rate increased. Not much: a small percentage, but enough that we noticed, and enough for us to gather resentment.

So we developed a new habit: when our turn came to open the boxes, we would be careless: the game became to see how many of the top layer of bottles you could slit open. Careless, mean spirited and wasteful, yes, but unifying and satisfying? Most certainly. There was no measurement of wastage that we could ascertain, so our subversion was unpunished.

You may have noticed my language shift from ‘i’ to ‘we’, because it was in this unification against the ‘system’ that our particular community found it’s shared values: not high and lofty values, for sure, but we were, after all, simply packing cosmetics, but values nonetheless, with all the social signs of shared intent and coherence. Smiles, shared nods, shared satisfaction, a sense of unity and trust. Our game: not shared with the box pushers, or the teams on other conveyor belts having an easier time than us with their slow and ponderous speeds.

Of course, in retrospect, i realise that we created our own fiction: the system was far too ramshackle to do anything as sophisticated as targeting our production line to optimise output. I suspect that if the belt ran faster at all, it was more to do with the age of the machine, not the machinations of our overlords. Indeed, i suspect it was our imperfect attempts to to measure the speed which were at fault, more than the speed itself varying.

But whatever the truth, by creating conditions for community to emerge, we found our shared values, low and wasteful as they may have been. Community not nurtured, but rather provoked. Because community is not just what we have to celebrate with us when times are good: it is, rather, the community we turn to at times of challenge or adversity, to solve our intractable problems and achieve the impossible.

Our community was not permanent: after six weeks i walked out, when i was reprimanded for failing to ‘clock out’ when leaving the production line to walk to the toilet. Some jobs are worth less than your fundamental self respect. But i learnt something worthwhile on that job: that communities can form in the least likely spaces, but that a group of people is not necessarily a community. And the organisations don’t own community, even though they may provoke it.

Indeed: most organisations are not one community, but rather many, together forming a patchwork culture that is both coherent and fractured in equal measure. Against such a background lie our efforts at change, efforts that i explore in the Dynamic Change Framework.

Ironically, i recently found myself in conversation with a senior executive from that company, talking about organisational change: i felt it improvident to reflect on how the vandalism of their deodorant had, in some small part, started me on a journey to understanding how important organisational culture it, and how it may be as entirely out of your control as the perceived speed of a conveyor belt.

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Agile Through Design

I”m #WorkingOutLoud, expanding on a few ideas today about the Socially Dynamic organisation: the type of fully adapted entity that would sit at the ‘Dynamic’ end of the Change framework that I’ve been sharing recently.

The Socially Dynamic Organisation and Agility

The Socially Dynamic organisation has space for wide diversity of thought: it’s strength comes not from uniformity of thought, convergence of thinking and agreement in all details, but rather from its ability to hold open ambiguity and curiosity.

Alongside this space for ambiguity is a strength in prototyping and iteration: the Socially Dynamic organisation is not agile through immediate excellence, but rather through its ability to learn and learn to be excellent. There is a difference: to be excellent requires a giant leap, whilst the journey to excellent requires many small steps. Is the ability to take these steps and find our way which marks the organisation as agile.

In this type of organisation we would see many layers of storytelling: personal stories of learning and change over time, co-created stories as the organisation finds its way, and an organisational story based upon the personal and co-created. A story written by every level of the organisation, not just by the leadership and imposed on individuals.

The 3 levels of narrative

I’m often asked which organisations are truly dynamic within the context of the Dynamic Change framework. Whilst hard to answer with any single organisation, I can tell you a key differentiating feature of all Socially Dynamic organisations: they have a deeply embedded methodology for creativity. Both formal and social filtering mechanisms that allow good ideas to be heard, explored, tested, prototyped and exploited. Part of this is a democratised potential: whilst in the Resistant or Constrained organisation potential is often linked to hierarchy and position, in the Socially Dynamic organisation it is linked purely to the strength of ideas and value one adds within community.

Creativity and Innovation

This embedded curiosity is essential for the Socially Dynamic organisation as it allows permission for continuous questioning of formal authority in a constructive framework. This is both a symptom of, and contributor to, the fact that this type of organisation is deeply fair, recognising expertise when it emerges rather than simply where formal roles are bestowed.

Unlike the traditional organisation where the verticals of HR, IT, legal, compliance and so forth are controlling entities, the fully adapted organisation will be both scaffolded and facilitating, agile through design not simply by aspiration.

Mechanisms of Control

Social filtering is a benefit of the high functioning communities we will see within this type of organisation: the capability to detect, aggregate and amplify relevant weak signals through the noise. This will likely take place across highly diversified technologies where there is an overall technology architecture which is both fluid, adaptive, and semi-disposable, not procured and therefore semipermanent.

Agility is an output of the Socially Dynamic organisation, not an aspiration of the Constrained one. Agility is more than simply words, it’s a deeply embedded capability delivered by mindset, process, permission and need, but none of those things in isolation. Whilst highly desirable it’s also highly difficult to master.

I’ll continue to explore more aspects of the Socially Dynamic organisation as i complete work on the new book around the Dynamic Change framework, before expanding this into more of a developmental pathway: a route map to agility.

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Reflections On The Socially Dynamic Organisation

I’ve been running a workshop today around the Socially Dynamic organisation, exploring aspects of learning, leadership, technology and change in the Social Age. The term ‘Socially Dynamic’ refers to an organisation which has moved beyond the simple reliance on hierarchy, formal authority, process and control towards a state where it is facilitating and enabling every level. It has unlocked the power of its communities with a devolved and distributed Social Authority giving us an ability to sense make in this new space.

The Socially Dynamic Organisation

Constrained organisations are well intentioned and busy, but subject to control effects which drain the energy and draw them to lethargy. By contrast, the Socially Dynamic organisation is able to achieve amplification and momentum by being fully adapted, by having reinvented itself away from the Victorian architecture of a previous age towards a much more fluid and adaptive setup.

Mechanisms of Control

There is no one single point of adaptation, but rather a holistic pattern of change. This is not simply a matter of leadership, compliance, infrastructure, facilities, recruitment, or HR, but rather an interplay between all of these and more within and alongside the community itself.

The ways that communities are engaged will be different too: a new social contract that is fairer and clearer and includes aspects of social recognition and reward, not simply mechanisms of control.

How will we know when we have this? If we don’t know then we are probably not there yet. The Socially Dynamic organisation will be apparent as it is Socially Dynamic: in other words the experience is lived every day to the culture we experience in our everyday reality. If we have to look hard for it, if we only find it in places, then we are still constrained with one or two elements of the organisation pulling ahead but doubtless with other parts lagging behind. This is the unfairness of dynamic change: if you are not fully there, you are not there at all. We can be well-intentioned, because intent sits at the start of the dynamic change framework: but it’s transformation which is the key, and the enemy of transformation is misaligned energy, a failure to relinquish control, or a belief that we are there already.

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Aspiration and Culture

We paint pictures in our minds: the culture we desire. Then we act, and co-create the culture that we deserve. Understanding the difference is important: one is written on the wall of the elevator, the other is how the receptionist welcomes you to the building. The fiction of aspirational culture may be reassuring, but maybe reassurance is dangerous: maybe instead we need a provocation to change.

Aspiration and culture

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Separation of Space

Over dinner tonight, someone described their commute to work: he said he cycled out of the office, through the converted industrial district, former mills and warehouses, now upmarket advertising agencies and web designers, then over the bridge, through suburbia and on to his house. The bridge provided separation: one one side, he was at work, on the other, on home turf.

Separation of spaces

When technology blends formal and social, providing one homogenous grey space of engagement, where we answer emails from bed and book holidays at work, separation can be hard to find: our networks overlap, our friends are our colleagues and former colleagues are our communities, it’s hard to separate one thing from the other. Where are the rivers in our minds?

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Aspects of the Socially Dynamic Organisation: Diversified Strength

I’m writing series of pieces exploring aspects of the Socially Dynamic Organisation: that which is fully adapted to the realities of the Social Age. Being Socially Dynamic is not a matter of single aspects of change, but rather a holistic pattern of adaptation as we transform the organisation from being hierarchically controlled and vertically segmented to be scaffolded, reconfigurable, and truly fit for purpose.

Aspects of the Socially Dynamic Organisation - Diversified Strength

Such an organisation has a diversity of strength: not strength based purely within hierarchy, based purely upon knowledge, based purely upon existing ability to get the job done, but rather upon its agility, an ability to solve problems through creative and distributed capability.

The Socially Dynamic Organisation

Whilst the Victorian organisation codified its strength into structures and hierarchy, the Socially Dynamic one finds strength in its communities, facilitated by technology, and through access to co-created, dynamic, and adaptive forms of knowledge, which remain directly relevant in the moment.

This does not happen by accident, but through a careful process of transformation across every aspect of the organisation, from its mindset, to its technologies, its approach to learning, the emergence of Social Leadership, and its ability to release itself from constraint in change.

Diversified strength is not about commonality and uniformity, but rather about difference, channelled through shared value and shared purpose, working within a common narrative structure, but highly creative and adaptable when it comes to problem-solving.

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Creating the Socially Dynamic Organisation

I’m going through the rather abstract exercise of writing what i do, so decided to #WorkOutLoud and share it here. My work sits around the Social Age, the term i use to describe the broad swathes of change make up our everyday reality: it’s not just technology (although that is often the most visible manifestation of the change), but rather something much wider. It covers the convergence of formal and social spaces and systems: the juncture of formal leadership (that which is awarded by the organisation) and Social Leadership (that which is consensual of the community), formal learning (stories that the organisation tells) and Social Learning (surfacing the tacit, tribal unheard wisdom of the community), formal technologies (like an LMS or Performance Management System) and Social Collaborative Technologies (spaces of conversation, co-creation, storytelling and rehearsal).

The Socially Dynamic Organisation

I explore creativity and co-creation: how the organisation unlocks agility by striking up a new Social Contract with the individual, and often by just getting out of the way once it has created the conditions for success. In some ways, i think the space i’m exploring is about everything: the point of organisations, and how we create the adapted organisation: one that is superbly fit for the Social Age: dynamic, adaptive, co-created, fair, kind, effective and socially responsible.

The Socially Dynamic Organisation

I don’t think it’s too much to ask: indeed, i think that those organisations who ignore the pressures of the ecosystem of the Social Age, are threatened with extinction. And rightly so: the Victorian architecture of control that surround many people within organisations today is no longer fit for purpose. The Future Org must be adapted, the future of work, different.

Future Organisations

My most recent work around Change itself, the Dynamic Change Framework, charts manifestations of change within organisations today: it’s intended to provide a practical framework for change. Is it perfect: no, but that’s why i’m #WorkingOutLoud on it, prototyping it, and sharing it as i go, in the hope that, together, we can get it right.

And, of course, that’s not all i do: i am interested in communication more widely, the need for equality, how we find social justice in an imperfect world, and so on. Other aspects of the Social Age. Some parts that do not yet tie together: that’s why we learn, that’s why we quest. To explore the widest field and find our story within it.

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