Socially Dynamic Structure: #WorkingOutLoud on Organisational Design Ideas

I’m revisiting work on the Socially Dynamic Organisation, which considers aspects of Organisational Design, formal and social structure, and mechanisms of collectivism, connection, productivity and effect. This is essentially a conversation about how we design, or redesign, our Organisations to be fit for the Social Age.

This is very early stage work still: today i’m reflecting on zones or spaces, and including the idea of a ‘Shared Table’, which in some ways brings in the conversation about geolocation and hybridisation of work – but again i feel no obligation to make this granular or complete today.

There are four key components of structure as represented here:

[1] A Structured Zone

[2] A Permeable Zone

[3] A Combining Space

[4] A Shared Table 

I’m writing in a Dutch coffee shop today, a feature of which is typically the shared reading table, an ideas i’ve shamelessly pulled into this writing. Shared space, not specifically of production, allowing both connection but also isolation ‘in company’.

Let me explore these in more detail. The Organisations that we redesign will involve a Dynamic Tension between formal and social structures, between the known and the unknown, the familiar and the strange. They most certainly will not be ‘replacements’ at a foundational level, but neither will they be ‘familiar’ at the structural one. A new type of Organisation for a new type of context of operation.

The ‘Structured Zone’ will most closely resemble the familiar: our production space, holding stability, governance, compliance and probably a host of other things. Interestingly though, perhaps not all the infrastructure, which is likely to be increasingly distributed through third parties, shared services, or even community or collectively held common services.

The ‘Permeable Space’ is about those aspects of the Organisation that no longer need to be walled (either CAN no longer be, or SHOULD no longer be) – which may include surprising aspects of knowledge, strategy, capability, that are no longer competitively isolated, or proprietary, or possibly can no longer be accessed on an exclusive basis, or through traditional markets.

The (possibly poorly named) ‘Combining Space’ is probably the biggest shift, in that it’s about rapid iteration WITHIN the structure – requiring rapid iteration OF THE structure. So to have a Combining Space requires a structure configurable to need – imagine one of those show spaces with moveable walls and rigging. An Organisational Structure like this.

The Combining Space thrives through disconnection from traditional structure of power and organisation – and possibly from the traditional structures of knowledge and capability. This may include internal marketplaces of problem solving.

There’s nothing specifically clever about putting INNOVATION here, except to note that it’s not about an Innovation Team, but rather a space for combination and connection – through diverse inputs – probably beyond or outside of the structure of the Structured Space of production. This will require models of recognition more closely aligned to the way that songwriting is recognised (after much pain) in the music industry. Less about individual heroism and insight so much as community and collective. This challenges all sorts of ‘norms’ about power, reward etc.

I’ve included in the Permeable Space both Strategy and Artefacts – which may more traditionally have been walled and hidden. Ideas of Open and Evolutionary strategy may be a natural consequence of the Socially Savvy CEO, the Journeyman Leader, and the Narrative Culture – where tenure is dynastic (as it increasingly seems to be) and the broad story is public.

The ability to create and host artefacts is a developmental need for many Organisations – not just artefacts of knowledge, but also of failure. Involving the creation of new Library or Museum spaces for connection and reference.

This may involve big data sets, creative convergence of human and AI problem solving, and capability to prototype parallel systems of ideas.

The ‘Shared Table’ is (perhaps) the new office – not geolocated working space – but perhaps the primary Cultural Forge. Here i would be experimenting with connection and structure that radically challenges traditions of space, segregation and power – so the main drive is diagonal and trans-domain connection. Highly fluid, shared ownership, non traditional rule sets and ownership etc. Possibly also hosting external and local community – or even hosted in the community. The Organisation as societal ecosystem, not squatting upon it. No gated campuses, but possibly a collegiate space. Needs more thinking.

We need broad and brave thinking about Organisational structure, which is largely trapped in post Industrial mindsets, as well as systems of power, and education, which reflect past needs. In an Information Age, and a Social one, the ‘where’ is less important than the ‘how’ our Organisations are formed.

It’s potentially a more transcendent model: not just a move beyond ‘place’, but a move beyond structure – not universally (we still have Structured Space – but in parallel with collaborative and unstructured ones.

This will challenge notions of what a ‘Job’ or role is, and what ‘Capability’ is, and how it is held and accessed. Greater social collaboration, collective capability, capability rental and investment, social models of reward and so on.

Still bricks and mortar, dollars and structure, but so much more than that.

About julianstodd

Author, Artist, Researcher, and Founder of Sea Salt Learning. My work explores the context of the Social Age and the intersection of formal and social systems.
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