This is the third in a series of articles charting the evolution of Organisations ‘from Domain to Dynamic’. In the first piece i discussed the evolution of Organisations, and the way they built out Domains and Hierarchy, as mechanisms of scale and safety. In the second piece i explored the forces of the Social Age that act upon these Organisations. Today i will consider why we need to move beyond the codified strength of the Domain Org, and into a model of Individual Agency, connected up at scale.
The Domain Organisation is tremendously strong, when facing known contexts. But also it is typically curious about moving beyond this ‘known strength’. As the forces of the Social Age erode historic power, and recontextualise legacy strength, we see an increased interest in the language of agility and fluidity: sometimes expressed as a capability to change, to transform, to become ‘digital’, to upskill, to evolve. All of this language means to be more fit: to be better, to be suited to this new context of the Social Age, but my contention is that this is not simply a matter of known change in a known space. Instead, it’s a matter of building a fundamentally new type of Organisation in a fundamentally new space. Moving beyond Domain, to Socially Dynamic.
I will explore what this means in greater depth in a subsequent post, but today i want to talk about Individual Agency.
Agency is both the ability, and motivation, to operate: it is your space to play. In that legacy Organisation, your agency was contextualised within a Domain, and within a hierarchy: you were limited both by power and space, but in the context of the Social Age, neither truly applies anymore.
We have agency, claimed socially, even if not granted formally.
When Organisations describe being more agile, having an ability to collaborate socially, to unlock the tacit and tribal wisdom of their Community, they are talking about Individual Agency, and space to engage. But what they do not always consider is the price of this engagement, and the factors that will drive it underground.
In the simplest of language, Individual Agency is an ability to help shape the future space, and a freedom to find a way to invest yourself within it.
So it’s a co-created model of change, and a collaborative model of engagement.
But to have this, we need to foster the conditions in which it can occur: conditions of power, space, opportunity, structure, and reward.
Factors like collaboration, creativity, innovation, and agility, do not happen in the abstract of the background context, or in absence of process or control. But the systems that they take place within may not be formally owned or moderated. So even the most liberated individual is constrained by norms of culture and doubt, consequence and judgement.
Perhaps a useful language is to consider scaffolding; scaffolding allows us to construct a building, but it is not the building itself. It enables.
If we want to unlock Individual Agency at scale, we may need to build out the scaffolding to support it, but not try to own it.