In a short series of posts, i’ve been exploring the evolution of Organisational Design, to take us from a Domain based strength, to a more Socially Dynamic one. In this, the sixth post, i introduce the notion of Dynamic Tension, and why the Socially Dynamic Organisation is a mixture of the old and the new.
When i described the emergence and evolution of the Domain Organisation in the first of these posts, i described it in terms of physical collectivism, and the invention of hierarchy, system, process, and control. And certainly that is one way to view it: everything you can see, own, and control, forms the Domains of the Organisation. Your legal contract, your company car, laptop, cafe, ceiling and floors, boxes and furnaces, trucks and logo. If you can quantify it and touch it, you probably own it. And Organisations are really excellent at making this stuff, expanding it, and controlling it. Want a bigger effect? Build a bigger team, and put someone new in charge: hierarchy can expand forever, and you can never have too much stuff.
But alongside the formal structure is a second one: harder to define clearly, but significantly more important. The social structure: i used to describe this as people, the networks of connection and trust that flow within and around the formal structure. If you have an office and colleagues, the office is part of the formal structure, and the definition of ‘colleague’ is held legally and contractually. But if you like them, trust them, or are proud of them, if you would go one step further for them, or protect them from harm or injustice, then what you are describing is the social structure.
Social structures differ from formal ones both in clear ways, and more subtle ones: whilst both could be described as being ‘owned’, one is owned in a legal way, and the other in a socially constructed one. You ‘own’ your network of friends in the sense that you can define it, carry it with you, and in theory deconstruct it. But you do not own it in the sense of being able to rent it out or control it in a defined and repeatable way (although interestingly, in the context of the Social Age, i do define employment as rented access to individual agency and network, but that is a slightly different concept).
In the illustration i describe that the social structure owns ‘Community’, ‘Engagement’, and ‘Trust’, which is a bit of an abstraction: it’s probably more accurate to say that it owns the social forces of a community, and that it is where ‘invested’ engagement sits. I define ‘Invested Engagement’ in the Landscape of Trust work as ‘the extra mile’, engagement beyond the utility that you are paid for.
In some senses, you do not need to agree with my definitions of what sits in each ‘bucket’, but i would encourage you to consider that certain things sit beyond contract and control, or cannot be bought for money. Certainly that is the central premise: that there is both a formal, and a social, system, and that interesting things happen at the intersection of the two.
But not smoothly.
The intersection is a challenging space, resulting in a Dynamic Tension, a tension which, if we ride it correctly, can power the Socially Dynamic Organisation. But which if we get it wrong can collapse it.
A more accurate description of a future state is not to consider the emergence of the Socially Dynamic Organisation as an evolution in some ways of the Domain one, but rather a parallel structure to it. But i do not normally make that so clear, because within that understanding lies a trap.
Many Organisations are trying to adapt, but within known parameters and structures of power and control: so they almost make it, but fail at the last hurdle. And failure is failure. So the comfort of considering social dynamism as a parallel structure is a trap. But it’s also true, because we cannot afford to throw out the strength of the Domain Organisation either.
Again, this is an abstraction, but broadly it is fair to say that the Domain Organisation gives us structure, safety, and scale, whilst the Social one gives us creativity, innovation, and engagement (an imperfect definition, because e.g. safety is also a cultural component, hence social, but again you can write your own boxes – just consider the principle for now).
I describe the Dynamic Tension as the tension between these two structures, and in an ideal world we will maintain and thrive within it: indeed, i would say that this Dynamic Tension is central to our ability to build a more Socially Dynamic Organisation. Without it we may delude ourselves that we have changed, but in reality only be repainting the walls.
I find the most useful way to describe the situation as this: you already have a phenomenal formal structure, a Domain Organisation, which may thrive in yesterdays world. But we are all feeling the pain and need for change, so you need to build out a parallel structure. The best of the old, the best of the new. But recognise that it is typically the old that kills off the new: persistent structures of power and control, attitudes to risk, and indeed attitudes to people, are what prevent us actually from changing. We are, in a very real sense, stuck in the present.
In the following articles i will expand the notion of the Socially Dynamic Organisation, and consider the forces that can enable or block us from building it.