Part 5, the conclusion of "Communicate, Collaborate, Coordinate, Decide: How IT Achieves Strategic Leadership," our article in Cutter IT Journal, November '08 Part 4 is here. Part 3 is here. Part 2 is here. Part 1 is here.
Decisions: Making and Communicating Them
Network models also show the topology of the organization as a whole. The dance between centralization and decentralization plays out in the dynamics of organizational
design and redesign as strategy changes to meet the ongoing rush of
events. Today, in particularly uncertain times, adaptive strategies are
more likely to succeed than “stay the course” approaches rooted in the
slower Industrial Era.
By analyzing network maps of the organization, IT can identify and clarify the real leadership positions from the bottom up and the
“edge in,” bringing attention to critical hotspots. These “hub”
leadership positions are the highest-potential/highest-risk jobs in the
network — positions that are typically overloaded and underresourced.
By providing such information to leaders at all levels, IT expands
everyone’s idea of leadership and how to improve it — knowledge that is at once visionary-strategic and practical-tactical.
Leaders make decisions and then communicate them.
They depend on their organizational hierarchies to gather information,
formulate options, offer recommendations, and make final decisions.
Then leaders turn around and use the formal reporting lines as their primary
conduits for distributing the official goals, strategies, policies,
procedures, and other messages from the top. These directives
eventually land in the laps of line managers who lead staff teams.
Organizations swing between decision making, a comparatively
complex process, and “decision telling,” which depends on
communication. Hierarchies need to accommodate both — the capacity for
making high-complexity decisions and communicating them along the
shortest possible paths.
This brings us to the two opposing principles inherent in organizational structure:
Centralizing to optimize communications.Organizations
do this by increasing manager reporting spans and decreasing the number
of levels in the organization. Fewer levels indicate shorter
communication paths from top to bottom.
Decentralizing for complex decision making.Smaller
manager spans, meaning that managers have fewer people reporting to
them, increase the number of organizational levels from top to bottom.
More complex designs like these allow the organization to engage more
specialties and devote time to deeper analysis before making complex
dynamic of local optimization of communicating and decision making
carves a hierarchical landscape that is high in some places, low in
others. Many-tiered mountains of small decision-making teams optimized
for complexity are scattered through low-elevation plains of large
teams transmitting strategies, standards, and procedures. The local
organizational design and appropriate balance of the tension between
centralization and decentralization depend on which concerns are paramount at any moment.6
organizations need to accommodate added decision-making capability
while becoming even smarter about communicating. How do they do this?
The answer lies in how they mix the ingredients of size, manager span, and number of top-to-bottom levels in different parts of the organization. Where communication is the dominant need, as it is in sales groups, manager reporting
spans and teams are often larger, which reduces the path between senior
and operating levels. Where decision making is paramount, as it is in
research, there are apt to be more departments with smaller teams,
which increases the path from top to bottom.
This is a critical consideration at a time when organizational
change, redesign, and, yes, downsizing are hitting thousands of
businesses, institutions, and agencies. The standing prescription for
redesign today is to flatten the organization. This is a poor general
rule. In some cases, flattening the organization may produce nothing
more than an enhanced ability to communicate truly poor decisions.
rarely call for more complexity within their organizations as a means
of coping with an increasingly complex world beyond their own four
walls. They should. A basic tenet of systems science is W. Ross Ashby’s
“Law of Requisite Variety,” which essentially says that a system’s
internal complexity must at least match that of its external
environment. In practice, this means that greater diversity — of
people, viewpoints, skills, disciplines, and the like — can generate
more innovation and faster adaptation than can homogeneous teams. While
there is likely some upper limit of diminishing
returns here, it’s instructive for organizations to ponder this
reality, especially as regards the advantages introduced by working
virtually, which radically increases access to diversity.
Organizing for Communication
teams of solid-line reporting relationships are ideal vehicles for
communication. Such teams are two-level organizations, with a manager
and his or her direct reports just one link apart. Communication distance doesn’t get closer than one degree, whether in networks
of family, friends, or coworkers. Every manager in the hierarchy has a
one-degree team, a star-shaped cluster of closely related positions.
The whole hierarchy is an interlocked set of one-degree management
teams beginning at the top and reaching all the way to the bottom,
regardless of whether or not any particular small group sees itself as
From the executive perspective, messages stream down the hierarchy of reporting links in a progressively articulated tree akin to any wide-area communication system.
In cable television transmission networks, for example, signals cascade
from the “head end” (Level 1) through high-capacity trunk lines (Level
2) into lower-capacity branches (Level 3) and feeder lines (Level 4),
finally “dropping” a thin wire to your home (Level 5). By
analogy, the CEO is the head-end source of signal and content, with
managers in between repeating and amplifying the source transmissions,
ultimately dropping the messages at the “homes” of the staff.
Organizing for Making Decisions
Western culture, our primary tool for tackling complex problems is
analysis. “Breaking down” the problem divides something complicated
into smaller, more comprehensible parts that may in turn be broken down
further. In organizational structure, this problem-solving approach
reveals itself in the propensity to differentiate and create more
organization tends to decrease manager span and increase levels when
complexity increases and more decisions need to be made. Here, the
hierarchy acts like a giant decision tree, a method used by operations
researchers to analyze complex choices. At the highest level (Level 1
for our purposes here) is the final decision to be made (e.g.,
allocation of resources among major projects), with branches (Level 2)
to each of the major option areas. Operations researchers map out
successive levels of branching and analysis within each option until
they have calculated all alternatives and values. The more complex the
choice, the more decision branches they need to map.
Each team and team of teams must design itself to fit its basic mission. In simple terms, this is the recipe:
communicate better, make the organization’s structure flatter (i.e.,
reduce the number of levels and enlarge the size of the teams).
To make better decisions, make the organization’s structure deeper (i.e., increase the number of levels and reduce the size of the teams).
For larger organizations, some parts will be more centralized,
others more decentralized. No one design is best everywhere, and global
edicts to flatten and simplify may, as we suggest above, undercut the
organizational capability to cope with complexity. Indeed,
collaborative technologies that connect people in all directions horizontally
and vertically enable much faster and better communication pathways. So
today’s fast-changing organizations can in fact become more complex to
support better decisions, while also communicating faster through formal but nonhierarchical channels. The hierarchical
design tradeoff between smarter decision making and better
communication is being transformed into a “both/and” as the whole
organization becomes interconnected at every scale from the single individual to the enterprise as a whole.
the years and decades to come, organizations will need to morph to
accommodate the pressing needs of the moment. But they can only do so
if they can develop accurate, comprehensive mental models of
themselves. And this is where IT comes in: using innovative tools, such
as hyperbolic viewers and other network display technologies, it can
map, navigate, and analyze the whole organization as a network.
Between Order and Chaos
ripple. A small decision here plays out as major activity elsewhere in
the web. Big effects arise from many small movements. Abstractions at a
large scale become everyday local juggling acts for managers and staff
across the hierarchy.
Organizations require both order and flexibility, stability and creativity.
The structure must provide sufficient constraints to maintain integrity
and enough freedom to innovate and adapt. Sufficient sameness and commonality have to mix with requisite variety and difference.
If not, the organization will be either completely moribund or a total
madhouse. Organizations change and rewire themselves as strategies
shift and refocus, or they fail to adapt and eventually disappear.
struggle to manage these contrasting forces. They find themselves
simultaneously bringing some things to the center and pushing other
things out, simplifying
in some places and “complexifying” in others. They push for greater
collaboration over here (perhaps to better deliver services) and
greater competition over there (perhaps to control costs).
core functions — IT, HR, and finance — all have data with which to
construct the basic network of how positions interconnect, in hierarchy
trees and other networks
of interdependent links. However, only IT has readily available and
reliable data on both hierarchical and nonhierarchical relationships,
including key contractors, formal teams, and patterns of inter-job/
inter-person communications (i.e., where working communication
interweaves with social networks).
has its finger on the pulse of complexity. It can help the entire
organization achieve a dynamic balance between order and chaos,
providing stability while enhancing innovation. It can advocate for,
then deliver, a new generation of the four strategic capabilities that
enable people in the organization to more effectively communicate,
collaborate, coordinate, and decide.
This is a powerful foundation for organizational wisdom that IT brings to the senior table.
Part 4 of "Communicate, Collaborate, Coordinate, Decide: How IT Achieves Strategic Leadership," our article in Cutter IT Journal, November '08 Part 3 is here. Part 2 is here. Part 1 is here.
Coordination: Mapping the Organization
IT has great reach and scope when it comes to providing
unique organizational information in novel and quantitative ways. It
can map the organization to aid communication, collaboration, and
coordination. And it can analyze the maps to produce data about the
organization that supports the large-scale decision-making capacity.
its directories, permissions, databases, and streams of information
flow, IT can construct maps that make the organization’s working
networks visible and accessible. Such views complement the limited
horizon of direct experience most executives rely upon.
provides an example of how these maps can help a small network of
organizations visualize its assembly into a new organizational
function. The Combined Arms Center (CAC), the Army’s intellectual and
educational hub, recently decided to create an organization-wide
knowledge function called CAC-Knowledge (see Figure 3). Its purpose is
to coordinate functions and share services within and between five key
organizations: BCKS, the Center for Army Lessons Learned (CALL), the
Combined Arms Doctrine Directorate (CADD), the Combat Studies Institute
(CSI), and the prestigious publication Military Review.
Knowledge flows directly from soldiers and leaders in BCKS-provided
large professional community forums (e.g., CompanyCommand.com) and
small team rooms, from after-action reviews and other sources through
CALL, to the codification of current best practice into Army doctrine
through CADD, and to publications that provide special knowledge, broad context, and deep history.
gain a complete picture of the formal organization beyond the reporting
hierarchy, enterprises need to map their networks of matrix reports,
the burgeoning multi-team memberships, and the horizontal workflow handoffs
between teams. As more kinds of relationships are added to the
reporting hierarchy, these maps offer an increasingly comprehensive,
easy-to-navigate, common mental model of the whole network and its
interdependencies. When organizations widely share such interconnected
maps with those who work in them, they create a “transparency of the
whole.” Such views help provide organizational awareness — shared
global contexts for making local decisions. This is akin to the
military’s “situational awareness” of the physical context.
For leaders who run suborganizations of hundreds and thousands of people, accurate maps of the complex organizational whole are becoming essential as changes are made in faraway functions. Meanwhile, many HR organizations have been identifying social networks of influence
and information that thread through the people occupying places on the
org chart of jobs. By making transparent the currently invisible
networks that connect people, organizations, and work, IT enables
everyone to function more intelligently, be more aware of the whole,
and be more capable of achieving shared goals.
Part 3 of "Communicate, Collaborate, Coordinate, Decide: How IT Achieves Strategic Leadership," our article in Cutter IT Journal, November '08 Part 2 is here. Part 1 is here.
Collaboration: Technology and Behaviors
Collaboration has two dynamics — technology and behaviors — that intertwine to successfully function in far-flung organizations.3 However, in our view, it’s only 10% technology; the other 90% is people.
Most global organizations are rapidly backing into the new mainstream world of virtual work, adopting technologies
that collapse space and time while still using antiquated ideas and
behavioral skills about meetings, teams, and organizations. Without new
behaviors and organizational designs, the great potential of the new
connective technologies remains largely fallow.
For example, IT may provide facilities for audio conference
calls and Web conferencing (screen sharing), which are critical
capabilities for virtual teams. While IT usually provides documentation
and technology training, rarely does it also offer quick tips,
education, and detailed practices on how to use the new facilities in a
virtual team context. Meanwhile, organizations are crying out for
How to have good conference calls
When and how to conduct virtual meetings
How to lead virtual meetings
How to coach others to have great meetings
How to lead high-performing virtual teams
Thus, IT finds itself needing to partner with other organizations to provide the behavioral side of the collaboration equation.
second key area of technology for virtual work is a repository for
anytime/anywhere access. Since the dawn of the Internet, research has
shown that virtual groups are far more likely to succeed when they have
common work products and private places to store and retrieve them.4 However, what’s needed today is much more than content management in isolated team rooms.
online workplaces and collaboration platforms present users with an
awesome list of tool parts that they can configure and deploy — if only
they had some way of knowing how to start from an empty room and turn
it into a cleverly designed shared space.
is best when shaped with an eye to human behavior. Team rooms can be
tailored to incorporate the principles and practices of good teaming,
such as clarifying
and articulating purpose, providing transparency in order to build
trust, and communicating with your larger network of relationships. New
technologies can strengthen the adoption of new behaviors, and vice
In the Teams of Leaders project, the BCKS adopted our virtual team model — People, Purpose, Links, and Time5 —
for the design of both collaboration training and the online leader
team rooms (see Figure 2). To reflect needs common to all teams, we
tailored a team room template on Microsoft’s SharePoint collaboration
platform, which could be used as a starting point and a learning
environment for best practices. As the teams inhabit the rooms, their
“walls” become personalized and articulated as the teams spell out
their specific purposes and discuss their processes.
team rooms are tailored for consistency and ease of use across many
groups, people can work in multiple teams and expect to find common
information in the same places. We often compare setting consistent
online areas for information related to people, purpose, and the like
to being able to find the light switch in roughly the same place in a
physical room. It may be outside the door or inside it, to the left or
to the right, but you don’t have to go on a treasure hunt each time you
need to flip the switch, which is something like what people experience
online right now. There is little consistency in the placement of
information, and a lot of time evaporates as people hunt for the
simplest “data.” We are not the only ones calling for consistency in
online team environments,
to be sure, and the vendors have done their best to snatch what they
regard as common elements and build them into their offerings.
Unfortunately, most are feature-driven, which makes them
technologically rich but, generally speaking, not driven by the way
people actually work.
IT is typically short on behavioral skills and knowledge itself, so it needs to partner with another function, usually
HR, to successfully establish the new behaviors required to achieve
true organization-wide proficiency. Working together, HR and IT can
couple virtual leadership methodology with collaboration technology to support high-performance virtual working.
HR (or Learning, or Education, or Training, for example)
is already in the business of leader development, which means that IT
can partner with that function to integrate the behavioral aspects of
working virtually into existing curricula, or to create new training.
Volvo IT, for example, now provides the Information Worker Package, a
virtual team service package comprising technology tools and behaviors
co-crafted with HR but delivered by IT.
Part 2 of "Communicate, Collaborate, Coordinate, Decide: How IT Achieves Strategic Leadership," our article in Cutter IT Journal, November '08 Part 1 is here.
Communication: From Technology to Services
quickly people get used to new ways of communicating! With Web 2.0, for
the first time in the information revolution, the consumer market is
ahead of the enterprise market. People now expect services inside
organizations comparable to those they use outside. Indeed, IT often
finds itself fending off rogue installations that the “tech people”
have yet to consider, instant messaging (IM) being a prime example.
When IT departments have delayed approving IM, enthusiastic users have
found their own workarounds — even if it means logging into Facebook or
Gchat to use this valuable utility.
IT organizations have moved to seeing their larger role as providing
“information management,” a service-oriented model. In this operating
view, technologies lie below the visible surface, constantly changing,
sometimes used in multiple services, while the support focus is on what
the “customer” wants and needs.
comprehensive view of IM sees customer needs at four distinct scales
within an enterprise: individual people, teams, communities, and
organizations. All are customers for different aspects of IT’s full
menu of services. These multiscale services comprise IT’s essential
contribution to collaboration, coordination, and decision making across
the whole organizational network.
a recent project with the US Army’s Battle Command Knowledge System
(BCKS), we helped develop a picture (see Figure 1) of existing or
embryonic services available to the Army, grouping those services by
the populations they serve.2 Many of these capabilities
reach — or are projected to reach — across many boundaries to the
Army’s partners in the larger complex world of current joint military
organizations. This complex set of relationships is often abbreviated
as JIIM, which stands for Joint, Interagency, Intergovernmental, and
1 shows the array of technologies available in some form in many
enterprises. What’s important here is the notion of IT customers at
every scale. Traditional knowledge management (KM) is directed at the
organizational level, as are learning services. Other services are
directed to and served by individuals, such as FAQ and
information-request services, joined by newer social-profile,
expertise-location, and blog services. Discussion forums support
cross-cutting communities of practice, while subsets develop domain
expertise and programs that use workflow services. Finally, the now hot
area of virtual team support includes the key technologies of
synchronous conferencing (audio, video, Web) and asynchronous
capabilities (repository, team room).
communication capabilities enable new collaboration capabilities.
Industrial Era technologies — bracketed by 15th-century printing and
20th-century broadcast television — predominantly enhanced one-way
communication. These served efficient hierarchies and specialized
bureaucracies. In the Information Era, interactive, anytime, anywhere
technologies have emerged, been adopted, and are now forcing
organizational restructuring. New forms of organization are emerging in
the public and private sectors, most along network lines. IT can bring
a natural network mindset to the senior table as companies repeatedly
consider reorganizations large and small to meet the demands of change.
Jeff Stamps and I have a new piece out in Cutter IT Journal--"Communicate, Collaborate,
Coordinate, Decide: How
IT Achieves Strategic Leadership"--where we talk about how and why IT leaders might claim their seats at the executive table. We're of the opinion that IT deserves a place right beside the other C-level functions, not just as a service organization reporting into some other group, as it often does (in one organization we know well, IT reports to Finance; in another, it reports to the COO). Here we lay out our reasoning and suggest what moves IT leaders need to make to rightfully claim an armchair at the roundtable. Please email me if you'd like more information about the piece: <jessica [dot] lipnack [@] netage [dot] com> - (hate those bots).
Here's the intro to the article:
has its unique wisdom to contribute to the strategic conversation of
organizations. But what gives IT real strategic leadership is its
ability to tap and extend the wisdom of the organization as a whole.
creator and sustainer of the digital apparatus that powers the
Information Age, IT is in a privileged position to understand the
organization’s “big picture.” More significantly,
IT’s infrastructure touches everyone many times daily (and
nightly). It provides universal tools that scale from each small
individual to the whole organization and beyond to its external
relationships. IT’s potential is huge, but it has much to do to
realize its full strategic leadership.
IT’s ultimate role is to co-lead the organization, the services
it delivers need to map to a model of organizational leadership that
includes everyone. We believe that IT can lead large-scale
organizations in achieving world-class performance by providing the
foundation for four capabilities that together generate the “wisdom
of the whole.” IT’s role at the senior table is to
promote and deliver such key strategic capabilities, ones that reach
across the organization. By doing so, IT enables the other operating
and service components to be more efficient and effective in meeting
their goals and achieving a synergy of shared organizational purpose.
The four strategic capabilities needed today are:
communicates. This continuously changing competency — enhanced
by new technology — is the foundation of a 21st-century,
data-wise, knowledge-based learning organization. But it is only the
ability to collaborate, to work together with others, is finally on
every CIO’s list of hot topics. Why? Because in the blink of an
eye, collaboration has gone virtual. There is wide demand now, across
organizations of all kinds, for better tools to help people manage
and work more effectively in teams and communities across distance
and time. This
virtual collaborative capability continues to accelerate thanks to
increasingly costly and hassle-ridden travel. The good news is that
once people master new tools and behaviors, they can function in
virtual teams at higher levels of performance than they could in
traditional face-to-face teams functioning without the benefit of
much technology. Two major reasons are the anywhere/anytime abilities
to grow a persisting shared team memory and to involve more —
and more diverse — people in the team’s work, which
enables more innovation.1
and collaboration are not sufficient for today’s large-scale
challenge of coordinating. Today executives must lead multilevel
organizations of hundreds to thousands of people in proliferating
networks of relationships far
outside their visual range.
To lead large-scale virtual organizations, where outcomes rely on
far-flung chains of responsibility and networks of interdependencies,
leaders must understand how to coordinate initiatives and guide
suborganizations that they often do not control. IT can provide maps
to this invisible organizational territory, help management to
navigate it, and initiate improvements in organizational design at
all levels. A common map that makes organizational elements and the
links between them transparent enables everyone in the network to
coordinate more effectively in line with the overall strategy.
Decision making. In
the traditional hierarchy, data, information, and knowledge flow up
and feed the processes that allow managers at every level to decide.
With final judgments made and directions agreed, “orders”
and guidance flow back down to the organization. In the end, however,
the many local decisions made in all the interconnected small teams
working at all levels come together to make up the decision-making
whole. Thus, the smarter everyone is about the larger context of
their work, the better they will be in making good local, front-line,
tactical decisions supported by enhanced executive strategic decision
making. The overall result is likely to be higher organizational
IT, meaning the way IT departments regard their core purpose,
traditionally focuses on the first of these four capabilities. Albeit
astonishingly successful as an enabler of communication, IT will have
to extend its mission. To be truly strategic, IT needs to make it
easy for leaders throughout the organization to also collaborate,
coordinate, and decide.
Heard this great quote yesterday at a knowledge management conference. Unfortunately, I missed the source so whoever the brilliant thinker is, apologies for not being able to attach your name. The speaker (another whose name I missed - appears to be a pattern) used the phrase as a way of setting a vision for knowledge dissemination. I like it. What I don't like is the word "management" after knowledge as if it reports to you, is subject to performance reviews, or perhaps gets assignments...
Wonder where this all is going? I just came across "Flex Your Force: Building Your Virtual Office," a very forward-thinking interview with Sun's VP of Open Work Services, Anne Bamesberger. I love that it's from last year, which doubles the forward-thinking quotient here...and that I got to it from an alert set to my name, which linked to a comment I'd made (referencing the green teams theme here) on an HBR Online article on the carbon footprint of work.
Bamesberger has a startling stat: There are approximately 60
million knowledge workers" in the US alone ... well suited to operat[ing]" in "an
Open Work environment," meaning they move around, have suitable collaborative spaces to convene in, and are equipped with excellent IT support and HR policies. Bamesberger figures that merely 5 million of them "are supported by a formal strategic
program. The remaining 55 million are becoming more distributed on a
daily basis, but being unsupported, they have unprotected, sensitive
information with them. If they are running around with mobile phones
that nobody is supporting or managing, how do you protect the
Whatever you call this new style of work, it's an epidemic. Recently, we've been working from a chicken coop on an island that has no bridges, roads, or stores while engaging in conference calls, sending those all-precious documents, scheduling meetings, and generally acting like we're all dressed up and in the office, i.e. we have high-speed internet, allowing us to watch the political conventions and the news on the very same screens where we're typing. This is all entirely different from the way it was even a year ago.
I'm glad to see Sun pushing at this from so many directions. And they have been for years. We profiled Sun Teams in our book, Virtual Teams; Jonathan Schwartz was in the first handful of CEOs to blog (corporately, Sun has skadzillons of blogs) ; they're doing virtual worlds stuff for collaboration; getting good results from telecommuting...and now this very good thinking from Ms. Bamesberger. All organizations need to regard this new way of working as intrinsic to their strategies.
Selling KM in a Hostile World: One line of commentary by Jessica Lipnack at the recent program on KM
2.0 concerned emotional and psychological barriers to getting
colleagues to adopt new behaviors and technologies. She went on to make
the case for creating a comfort zone and welcoming environment to help
alleviate resistance. But there is much more to explore around the
notion of a hostile world that has to be considered and planned around
when we contemplate our KM initiatives. Join us to discuss how to move
from outright barriers to may-be to probably.
I'm speaking at "KM 2.0 – Real or Hype?" - the upcoming Boston KM Forum Symposium on Leveraging Knowledge at Bentley College.
Here's the abstract of my talk, "Moving Beyond 2.0 Resistance:"
Twenty years ago, an aspiring social network analyst asked us for the
names of everyone in our database. He had a program that could link
them up, he said, help them find one another, spark new connections.
How intrusive, I thought. Who’d want that? Years later, he would go on
to design one of the major social networking sites. I resisted and
resisted – and then something happened: someone I trusted explained
blogging to me, someone else invited me onto Facebook…and the rest is
what brings me to Boston KM Forum. This talk will be about resistance
to Web 2.0, even among people like myself who’ve been online forever,
and what happens when that resistance gives way to powerful experiences.
And here's the rundown of the other speakers and their topics:
* Mark Frydenberg, a Senior Lecturer at Bentley: Web 2.0 Tools for Knowledge Management
* Ray Sims, formerly Director of KM at Novell: KM and Web 2.0 – A User’s Perspective
* Dan Keldsen, Director of Market Intelligence at AIIM: Enterprise 2.0 = KM 2.0?
* Jeff Cram, Managing Director, and David Aponovich, Content Management Specialist, ISITE Design: Case Study: The Siemens BeFirst Portal
* Larry Chait, Chait and Associates: Wrap-up: KM 2.0 - Why We Should Care
8:15-4:00 on Wednesday, April 9, 2008, Bentley College in Waltham, MA. The fee, including light breakfast and full lunch, is $50.