Loose Hierarchies, Strong Networks

by Harold Jarche on April 11 2012, 14:38

Categories: Social HR - Management & Policy - Training & Development


When I wrote that the only knowledge that can be managed is our own, I wanted to highlight that command & control methods do not work well in this network era that is replacing the industrial/information era. In our increasingly complex work environments, we should should take the advice of Snowden & Kurtz who recommend “loose hierarchies & strong networks” as shown in this image by Verna Allee.

While a certain amount of hierarchy may be necessary to get work done, networks naturally route around hierarchy. Networks enable work to be done collaboratively, especially when that work is complex and there are no simple answers, best practices or case studies to fall back on. Real business value today is in complex and creative work.

Just imagine if the idea that the only knowledge we can manage is our own informed our organizations and our approach to learning and development?

What would education look like? Perhaps like this school in Bat-Yam where children direct their own learning and involve the entire community to help them achieve their personal learning goals. Loose hierarchies, strong networks.

What would training look like? Perhaps workers would be asked how they learn best and then be supported by the organization to get their work done. Maybe one-hour of compliance training on the LMS would disappear. Loose hierarchies, strong networks.

What would knowledge management look like? Perhaps every worker would be encouraged and supported to develop a personal knowledge management system not tied to enterprise software. Each person would have knowledge artefacts that could be connected to the enterprise but not uniquely owned by it. The organization would support the development of PKM skills. Loose hierarchies, strong networks.

What would your organization look like with loose hierarchies and strong networks? Probably a lot more human.

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