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Organizing with Networks, Teams, Self-organizing and Empowerment 2012

ORGANIZING WITH NETWORKS, TEAMS, SELF ORGANIZING AND EMPOWERMENT Written by Kaj Voetmann, Networks and teams have become central in the way we organize ourselves inside and between organizations. With Kurt Lewin’s idea that there is nothing as useful as a good theory, it is remarkable that both the concept of networks and the concept of teams often are defined very implicit and seldom are used consistently. In this article I will address some of the reasons creating this situation. The main reason is that we in the western hemisphere is in the middle of something Peter Senge calls Galilean shifts, where our traditional worldview no longer is sufficient to explain phenomena like networks and teams. Peter Senge identifies three major Galilean shifts: 1. THE PRIMACY OF THE WHOLE. The defining characteristic of a system is that it cannot be understood as a function of its isolated components. First, the behavior of the system doesn't depend on what each part is doing but on how each part is interacting with the rest. Second, to understand a system we need to understand how it fits into the larger system of which it is a part. Third, and most important, what we call the parts need not be taken as primary. In fact, how we define the parts is fundamentally a matter of perspective and purpose, not intrinsic in the nature of the "real thing" we are looking at. 2. THE COMMUNITY NATURE OF THE SELF. When somebody asks us to talk about ourselves, we talk about family, work, academic background, sports affiliations, etc. The self is not a thing, but a

1 Author: Kaj Voetmann,

Organizing with Networks, Teams, Self-organizing and Empowerment 2012 point of view that unifies the flow of experience into a coherent narrative – a narrative striving to connect with other narratives and become richer. The constitution of the self happens only in a community. The community supports certain ways of being and constrains the expressions of individuality to certain patterns of behavior. A systems view of life suggests that the self is never "given" and is always in the process of transformation. 3. LANGUAGE AS GENERATIVE PRACTICE. We invent structures and distinctions to organize the otherwise unmanageable flow of life. That organization allows us to operate effectively, but it can become a tranquilizing barrier to exploration and creativity. The more efficient a model of the world turns out to be, the more it recedes into the background and becomes transparent. The more successful the model's strategies, the more the "map" of reality becomes "reality" itself. The danger of success is that the thinking behind it can become entrenched and disregard the necessary context of its effectiveness. When a model loses its "situation" and generalizes its validity to universal categories, it sooner or later stalls our capacity to deal freshly with the world and each other. TRADITIONAL VIEWS ON ORGANIZATIONS

The traditional way of perceiving organizations is that an organization has a clear boundary to the environment, that it is relatively stable and that all the people are organized in small well defined jobs, which creates a well ordered hierarchy. In these organizations there are departments, where a series of well connected jobs are supervised by a manager. And teams are nothing like departments and the leader of a team has very different responsibilities than the traditional manager of a department. In the traditional views on organizations there are some ideas about leadership and cooperation: •

All leaders (and employees) are expected to be in control of things

Some of the assumptions behind the idea of being in control are: –

The future is known and looks like the past and present

The premises for the present set of well functioning solutions are stable

The solutions and tasks have to do is defined correctly and are non-negotiable

The way the tasks are solved is efficient based on the criteria, that was instrumental in the choice of the solutions and tasks

Everyone who is affected directly or indirectly agree that the way the tasks are done is efficient

2 Author: Kaj Voetmann,

Organizing with Networks, Teams, Self-organizing and Empowerment 2012 –

The structures of society – both local, national and international – are unchanged

These assumptions are nowadays part of an on-going dialogue and negotiation between more and more people, who often lives far away from the head quarter of the organization. THE SPIDER PLANT AS A METAPHOR FOR NETWORKS AND ORGANIZATIONS

In this article I will introduce anoter way of perceiving organizations, which is much closer to the everyday life most people live in organizations. An everyday life, where today doesn’t look like yesterday and where the idea that one person can be in control of everything are no longer realistic. Nature is a good metaphor for the everyday life most people experience in and around organizations. Gareth Morgan has described the metaphor of a Spider Plant in his book Imaginization, and I have updated it to 2008. A Spider Plant looks like this:

Figure 1. A Spider Plant Illustration: Hans Møller/

3 Author: Kaj Voetmann,

Organizing with Networks, Teams, Self-organizing and Empowerment 2012

Figure 2. Another Spider Plant Illustration: Hans Møller/

Figure 3. Mother plants collaborating


A spider Plant begins its life as a small offshoot, which can grow to become a big and beautiful plant and begin to make new offshoots. The offshoots produce new offshoots and so on. This growth can be an example of a new organization, which grows from very small to very large organization. It can also be an example of a project that starts with an idea, which have no access to soil, water or fertilizer, but over time it will grow big and then it will spread into many offshoots and often it'll transform itself to a new operating unit.

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Organizing with Networks, Teams, Self-organizing and Empowerment 2012

Figure 4. The first offshoots Illustration: Hans Møller/

Figure 5 Growing up Illustration: Hans Møller/

The spider plant can also be an image on an early morning, when the organization actually doesn't even exist, but then life is filling it up and it grows up until people begin to go home again.

5 Author: Kaj Voetmann,

Organizing with Networks, Teams, Self-organizing and Empowerment 2012

Figure 6 Dying plant Illustration: Hans Møller/

The metaphor also introduces the idea that the plant and its offshoots can die or some parts can die while others survive and thrive. It even makes it possible for an offshoot to become an independent plant.

Figure 16. Creating new independent plants Illustration: Hans Møller/

6 Author: Kaj Voetmann,

Organizing with Networks, Teams, Self-organizing and Empowerment 2012 UMBILICAL CORDS

To ensure that the life forces can flow back and forth between the different parts of the plant

Mission, vision and values Infrastructures and accountabilities Resource-flow Information-flow Contributions and gains

Figure 7. Umbilical cord with several channels Illustration Hans Møller/

there are strings or umbilical cords that contain several channels dealing with different life forces. One channel contains shared mission, vision and values, which holds the business and the social community together. Another channel contains the infrastructures and the mutual accountabilities, which builds on the trust that is necessary when you put part of your own destiny into the hands of other people. A third channel contains the resource flow that the mother plant exchanges with the offshoot. A fourth channel contains the information flow between the mother plant and the offshoot and a fifth channel distributes the contributions and the gains developed in the life of the plant. STRING CONVERSATIONS

In the daily life of the organization there is a need for many kinds of conversations between people who works inside or outside the organization. These conversations take place through physical and cordless strings between the different parts of the plant. Originally these conversations took place by people walking around and talking to each other or writing to each other. Today lots of this physical activity has been replaced by many kinds of conversations carried by many different technologies. In the traditional organization distance was a great challenge especially because of the delay created by the physical transportation between the participants in the conversations and the hard process of writing down and decoding written messages.

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Organizing with Networks, Teams, Self-organizing and Empowerment 2012

Figure 8. String conversations Illustration: Hans Møller/


Each of the offshoots will normally develop more or less differently.

Figure 9. Several kinds of offshoots Illustration: Hans Møller/

Each of the offshoots usually performs one or more specific tasks, which creates a special design of the offshoot. The design reflects the physical layout, the specialized language, the virtual and the social solutions that are necessary to ensure an efficient solution to the challenge is the offshoot has had to face before or are facing in the future. DIFFERENT KINDS OF UMBILICAL CORDS

8 Author: Kaj Voetmann,

Organizing with Networks, Teams, Self-organizing and Empowerment 2012 This also means that the umbilical cords between the mother plant and the offshoots can be different from offshoot to offshoot.

Figure 10. Different umbilical cords for different offshoots Illustration: Hans Møller/


With different kinds of offshoots and different kinds of umbilical cords it becomes natural to organize the work in the different offshoots differently according to the nature of their tasks.

Figure 11. Offshoots with different kinds of organization Illustration: Hans Møller/


To ensure an effective reporting and development of the development of the different parts of the organization there will often be a need for a series of reports and meetings between the offshoots without the participation of the mother plant.

9 Author: Kaj Voetmann,

Organizing with Networks, Teams, Self-organizing and Empowerment 2012

Figure 13. Reports and meetings Illustration: Hans Møller/

The mother plant will often have some kind of control system of each of the offshoots.

Figure 12. Controlling the offshoots Illustration: Hans Møller/

And the mother plant will give feedback to each of the offshoots.

Figure 14. Feedback from Headquarter Illustration: Hans Møller/

10 Author: Kaj Voetmann,

Organizing with Networks, Teams, Self-organizing and Empowerment 2012 It can also be necessary to provide some kind of incentives for each of the offshoots.

Figure 15. Providing incentives Illustration: Hans Møller/


To ensure the necessary expertise is accessible to all parts of the organization it will often be a need for different kinds of bumblebees and angels. The bumblebees bring expert knowledge from central staffs or external advisors like accountants, lawyers, consultants etc.

Figure 17. Organizational bumble bees and angels Illustration: Hans Møller/

The angels are the people who bring messages from one place to another to make sure that the information that is needed to make good decisions in each part of the organization is where it is needed. Angels are often middle managers who bring information from one place to another.

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Organizing with Networks, Teams, Self-organizing and Empowerment 2012

Figure 18. Other support structures Illustration: Hans Møller/

It is possible to introduce other kinds of support structures. ADD OR REMOVE YOUR OWN ELEMENTS

With these organizational elements it is possible to describe most organizations in a way that reflects dynamics and complexity they really have. As with all living plants there are variations, which lacks some of these elements and others who have even more important elements like for example roots, gardeners and beehives. Weather and wind and all kinds of environmental factors could also be incorporated into the model. Only the imagination limits how the model can be expanded.

Figure 19. Providing water and fertilizer Illustration: Hans Møller/

12 Author: Kaj Voetmann,

Organizing with Networks, Teams, Self-organizing and Empowerment 2012

Figure 20. Cutting off the dying parts Illustration: Hans Møller/


Now we return to the concepts of networks and teams. To make sure that the plant survives it has made symbiotic (mutually beneficiary) partnerships with lots of external parts of the ecology. In an organization these symbiotic partnerships is mostly with the strategic stakeholders like public, private and nongovernmental organizations. This means that all organizations actually are a part of a large network of institutions, businesses plus their customers that cooperate in order to create growth and prosperity for everyone. This corporation takes place between quite independent partners who often want to make their own decisions. To make this kind of cooperation possible it takes lots of self organizing, where each organization based on the information it has access to makes its own decisions. SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT

This kind of organization has to be sustainable in order to create results knowledge in the future for the partners. Sustainability only works if there is a general recognition that: •

Everyone is mutually dependent

Everyone has a shared responsibility of the use of limited resources in order to create the most prosperity now and in the future.

Development thrives best in mutually enriching (symbiotic) partnerships

there is a huge need of lots of dialogue with a large degree of openness about your own competences, resources, wishes and needs

This is only possible in every participant has a great capacity to handle adversity and to act flexible in the concrete situation.

13 Author: Kaj Voetmann,

Organizing with Networks, Teams, Self-organizing and Empowerment 2012 Especially when there is a need or a wish to develop a new set of solutions that can make the net work even more effective and efficient this calls for a very qualified dialogue between the partners with a large degree of mutual responsibility for records use of the limited resources, which are in the network. NETWORKS OF CONVERSATIONS AND INNOVATION

A network will usually be interpreted as the physical units in its like organizations, groups and individuals, but the core units in a network are the interactions and conversations that make sure that the information about intentions, interests, competences and resources take place. The creative process of creating something new can only take place if all of these things are put into play in the conversations about the future of the network, of the single organization, of the products, services and processes that the network will produce in the future and how to manufacture the products, how to design the processes and how to design the services and train the people who need to give the service. When you study phenomena like innovation from the concepts of a network of conversations with it’s core strategic stakeholders, which often is both public and private and even nongovernmental organizations that have to have strategic innovative conversations. These conversations often have to include important individuals with the kinds of expertise or ideas that are needed in order to create the innovation. But without the conversations of this strategic character there will be no innovation. WHERE ARE THE PEOPLE IN THIS KIND OF ORGANIZATION?

With the spider plant as inspiration an interesting question emerge: where are the individuals in this plant? In the drawings they emerge in the mother plant, in the offshoots and they're flying around between different parts of the plant and even outside. In a sense you could say that most of them do not belong in one specific place all the time. We know that from our everyday life. We're not sitting in the same place all day, we move around from one conversation to the next. Some conversations we have with the same people often, some conversations are rarer and some conversations only take place when it's necessary and might be an once-in-a-lifetime experience. With the dynamics and complexity that life in this kind of organization holds there will be a need to supplement the individual organization with teams. The team is a group of people who needs each other in order to define, solve and develop a task in a meaningful way. This definition as this interesting side effect that the customers for example is part of the sales team, while the suppliers could be part of the product development team and the customer is certainly a core part of delivering service.

14 Author: Kaj Voetmann,

Organizing with Networks, Teams, Self-organizing and Empowerment 2012 This means that teams become a central part of the everyday life of leaders and employees and the teams become crucial in order to make it possible for the individual to act in a sensible way in a situation where a good solution only can be found, if they're able to bend or even overlook the bureaucratic rules and procedures that most organizations have. The teams become crucial in order to make it possible for the individual to act with large degrees of freedom and commitment in their everyday life. It is through the teams and the networks that the necessary information and training takes place. During the day most leaders and employees will move from one team to the next and solve the tasks that are necessary or possible right now. GOOD TO GREAT

This kind of organization is built on the principles that Jim Collins calls Level 5 leadership in his book good to great. In this kind of organization you have very highly skilled employees who also are very skilled at working in teams. The team leader’s responsibility is to create the frame that the team needs in order to function efficiently, while leaders at higher levels also had to make sure that the frames for self organization and empowerment are in place. Jim Collins suggests that these kinds of organizations have an ongoing dialogue around three big questions:   

What is our inner passion? What can we become the best at in the whole world? How do we provide the necessary resources to realize our inner passion and our ambitions?


Using these illustrations and the explanations connected to each on the illustrations it is possible to develop a method that makes it possible to visualize dynamic and complex networks and organizations filled with teams and networks of conversations by using the following questions:     

Which mother plants and offshoots do we need? What has to flow back and forth through the umbilical cords between the mother plants and the offshoots? What kind of dialogue do we need to have in physical and cordless strings? How do we organize each of the mother plants and each of the offshoots in the best possible way? Which formal meetings and reports are needed among the mother plants and the offshoots?

15 Author: Kaj Voetmann,

Organizing with Networks, Teams, Self-organizing and Empowerment 2012    

Which kinds of methods should we use in these meetings in order to ensure that they fulfill the purpose and the tasks that they are meant to fulfill? Which kinds of bumblebees and angels do we need to have inside our organization and which of them can we hire from the outside when it's needed? Is there any need for roots, gardeners or any other kinds of living structures to supplement this organization or this network? How are we going to react on unexpected events and in case the premises for the answers to these questions change?

One way to create the visualization is simply to use Post-it's in different colors, where one color signifies a mother plant and another color signifies an offshoot. If you put the Post-it’s on a large piece of paper you can begin to fill in the umbilical cords and you can use other colors of Post-it’s to signify bumblebees, Angels and whatever kinds of design elements that you want to introduce into your network or organization.

16 Author: Kaj Voetmann,

Organizing with Networks, Teams, Self Organizing and Empowerment  

Organizing with Networks, Teams, Self Organizing and Empowerment

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