Organisational Structures versus Social Networks

Cuboid series 2

The fundamentals of organisational structure have been the focus of attention of late, particularly as we see the emergence of social environments in the workplace, and the power that they can yield. Jamie Notter, co-author of Humanize has made a strong case for organisations to move from being “Machines” to more “Human Like” in order to tap into the values that social environments can bring to the workplace. The “Human” principles of collaboration, openness, trustworthiness, courage and a sense of belonging are instrumental and well aligned to the success of social environments and social media tools.

I get that, and agree a new work environment is necessary to create a social enterprise, but there are some flaws in the notion that social enterprise is a necessary replacement over hierarchical structures.

Lets look at the Arab Spring movement that used social principles (and tools) to overthrow President Hosni Mubarak. What we observed was the power of a networked group in achieving a goal of ousting a dictator, but in the end the new Egyptian president was far from being a representative of the people who orchestrator the social uprising, nor did he have anything to do with the movement. The movement itself was seemingly chaotic – there was no formal leadership, but assumed a life of its own, to which individuals were absorbed into.

Recently, one of my favourite authors, Malcolm Gladwell, made this comment, which sums up nicely the view that I hold:

“Networks may start revolutions,but they can’t finish them. Our job is to remind Millennials of the importance of hierarchies as well as networks.”

So, I think the future organisational design model does need to change – but it’s not a complete replacement of existing hierarchies with a mass movement mentality. The future need will be to understand how to leverage the power of the collective but still allow for purposeful and clearly identified leadership. It’s also  far more fundamental than simply installing a Social Media tool such as Yammer or Jam into your organisation, and as a leader hoping that you have ‘done enough’ – absolutely not! there will need to be real shifts in “who speaks”, “who decides” and ‘who acts”.

Finally, as a lover of HR technology, it would be remiss of me to not add a note that the link between HR system’s Org Management solutions/modules and social media tools is a major gap that needs to be addressed. While we have seen vendors integrating SM tools into their HR solutions, they have not truly understood how the Org management tools need to changed in order to create and support the new working environments.