This is my second post reviewing and providing my insights on Arthur Yeung and Dave Ulrich’s new book, Reinventing the Organization.
My last post on this suggested that Dave’s new organisational logic means that we need to think about what happens outside of an organisation before we look at its internal arrangements.
However, for me, my logic from The Social Organization (TSO) still applies, ie we need to understand the capabilities an ecosystem will provide and the principles it uses in doing this in order to identify the most optimal organisational solution for a particular environmental context.
For Dave and Arthur, the key thing about the external environment is that it is uncertain and fast changing – or superdynamic. This means organisations need to be more market oriented, and they suggest the key ecosystem capabilities an ecosystem needs to provide are information, customer, innovation and agility.
They also suggests some ecosystem principles (which provide a basis for an ecosystem’s common shared values / style) to respond to the new environment:
- Establish a consistent set of priorities
- Create the future by anticipating what the market will be
- Win through a focus on growth
- Stay a step ahead of the market by anticipating targeted and future customers
- Effectively use different options to execute a growth pathway: buy, build or borrow
- Seek and inspire agile employees
- Use scorecards and data to drive a growth mindset
- Always reinvent strategy because strategy is never finished.
The book reviews seven main case studies of this organisational form – Amazon, Facebook and Google in Silicon Valley and their digital cousins – Alibaba, DiDi, Huawei and Tencent in China (as well as Supercell in Finland, which is a bit of an outlier, organisationally as well as geographically, as explained below).
The MOE is first of all, an ecosystem (generally defined to mean a network which extends beyond an individual firm). Given the logic reviewed above, a MOE is deliberately designed to involve external allies – partners providing staff, skills, structures and systems and stakes in the ecosystem.
But the MOE resembles an ecosystem within the orchestrating organisation too, with autonomous teams (cells) working alongside each other through a network rather than as a result of hierarchical coordination. Amazon’s single threaded teams is a great example. And I think this logic works – if an organisation is cellular internally, it also makes it easy to work with cells which are outside. It also provides the customer focus required by the MOE (see TSO on horizontal teams).
The other distinguishing feature of the MOE is that this uses a digital platform to support the operating network. As I noted in TSO, it’s quite hard to scale a network without a common platform, so this makes good sense too. It also provides most of the required information and agility, and together with the cells, innovation. The use of a platform makes the MOE a highly centralised ecosystem though. (Work is done autonomously within the cells, but the leadership of the ecosystem is centralised under the platform owning part of the MOE.)
Note, however, that I don’t think Dave and Arthur are referring to what I would call a platform based organisation where a digital platform enables autonomous groups to work together without hierarchical management or other forms of co-ordination. (I think the best example of a platform based organisation is Haier who also presented at the Drucker Forum last year. If you’ve not seen it, then Gary Hamel has provided a great case study of this company / platform / ecosystem in HBR recently. I particularly like this example because Haier’s platform treats internal and external micro enterprises in just about the same way, so it’s much more similar to a biological ecosystem than a MOE.)
Instead of this, MOEs just use platforms to support the network (rather than the network being constructed on the platform). For example, Facebook’s internal use of Workplace is included as an example. Workplace as a product is a digital platform as it provides apps through the system, and it’s also an organisational platform as it enables cell based and multi-company networking, but it’s not a platform based organisation platform (!).
My favourite case study is Tencent as I think this makes Dave and Arthur’s ideas about platforms very clear. “Tencent shares its expertise and resources in technology, legal affairs, government affairs, and talent and organisation management with its strategic partners. For instance, Tencent offers technological and service infrastucture through Tencent Cloud…” In addition, Arthur’s in-house consulting team “offers consulting, training, and coaching support to help key strategic partners upgrade their leadership, key talent, and organisational capabilities”.
Therefore, although the platform fits mainly within the structure element of an organisational systems model, there can also be an aspect which is more about the style that people work in, within and across their organisations, too.
Of course, none of this that new. Firstly, it already exists in Dave and Arthur’s case study organisations, even if this is largely limited to two main geographies. But it’s also not that new in terms of the ideas being articulated as an organisation form. Eg it’s similar to:
- Josh Bersin’s network of teams (though this doesn’t demand a platform)
- Niels Pflaeging’s value creation structure (with the informal network formalised through the platform)
- Dave Gray’s podular organisation (with a more formalised version of the technological part of his backbone making up for a less significant cultural aspect)
- Michael Arena’s entrepreneurial teams and communities (once again, with the adaptive space network formalised through the platform)
- McKinsey’s agile organisation
- My own melded network organisation, from TSO.
I agree, and do state, that internal and external are becoming more blurred. But for me, the best thing for most organisations to do is sort out their internal organisation – before they grapple with the additional complexity outside. These organisations can still create internal networks of teams, and use internal platforms.
In fact, although Dave’s organisational logic suggests we need to look externally, beyond a single organisation, before we look internally, most of the book’s examples focus on their internal networks of teams, not the way their ecosystem involve allies from outside the organisation.
In particular, the book’s other main case study, Supercell in Helsinki, is a great example of a network of teams approach. However, this company doesn’t really do much externally. Yes, it has partners with shared resources, as most organisations do these days, but I don’t see any evidence of an external ecosystem. And the company’s website provides interesting points about its team focus but says nothing to suggest it followed Dave’s new organisational logic in developing this.
Dave also suggests Amazon first created its capabilities within the organisation and only later magnified this throughout its ecosystem.
Dave’s case studies also demonstrate that the model is fairly flexible in the way it is applied and suggests that it can be extended to other, non digital sectors, including retail, manufacturing, healthcare, finance, consulting and other professional services. For example, Walgreens / WBA’s stores and organisational management systems are seen as MOE cells and platform too. Now I’ve worked with Boots here, which is a great company, but not what I would understand as an ecosystem or even less so, a platform enabled organisation. But then if the model is going to potentially extend to any organisation I think you do need to interpret it quite loosely.
My insights from this are:
- I do think it will be useful to look externally at potential parters and the opportunities for creating an ecosystem before focusing on internal organisation design (see TSO for how to do this internal piece). I’m fully persuaded of this evolution in organisational thinking.
- This won’t always result in creating a MOE or even an external ecosystem and that is fine.
- Regardless of this, creating an internal network of teams is an increasingly good idea. It provides many of the benefits of an MOE with less bother, and provides a great basis to extend externally later on as well (and one again, see TSO for how to create this internal network of teams, or other melded network options).
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