The Coherent Organization

Co·her·ent  (k-hîrnt, -hr-) means

1. Sticking together; cohering.
2. Marked by an orderly, logical, and aesthetically consistent relation of parts: a coherent essay.
3. Physics Of, relating to, or having waves with similar direction, amplitude, and phase that are capable of exhibiting interference.

(The American Heritage Dictionary)

This post continues an ongoing conversation about The Coherent Organization. While I’ll focus on interchanges among Harold Jarche, Clark Quinn, and myself, as with everything at the Internet Time Alliance, the discussion bears the fingerprints of Charles Jennings, Jane Hart, and Paul Simbeck-Hampson as well.

The lead article in the current issue of Chief Learning Officer is Building a Performance Ecosystem by Clark Quinn.  The article describes The Coherent Organization, the Internet Time Alliance‘s shorthand for a company where individuals are aligned with the organizational mission and information flows from outside in and back again in ways that accelerate work.

The underlying concept is that organizations and their people are members of many different types of networks, for example, communities of practice, the company social network, and close-knit collaborative work teams. You need to optimize participation in all of them. Harold Jarche and I hit on this in the midst of a social learning implementation project for a big financial services firm last year.

There’s nothing new under the sun. Harold’s schema drew on and expanded the work of our friend Lilia Efimova:

Harold applied Lilia’s concepts to a corporate network environment:

As Clark pointed out, “The benefits are clear: when folks have maximal information about what they’re expected to do, and minimal barriers to achieve their goals, the organization succeeds.”

At midyear, Harold, Clark, and I built on one another’s thoughts in public. Harold made a key addition: Work teams collaborate; learning networks cooperate; communities of practice do both.

The three of us believe that learning is work and work is learning. In his next post, Harold wrote that “All three of these structures are united by networked and social learning. These are necessary to not only do the work but to prepare for the work to be done: emergent practices.”

Yesterday Clark wrote about detailing the Coherent Organization. He’d populated our network clouds:

Clark then brought like items together and classified them by activity to produce this matrix:

Expanding on the model

Instead of talking about an organization, shouldn’t we really be talking about the Coherent Extended Enterprise? Everyone in the organization’s ecosystem needs to be on the same wavelength. The only way to do that in a world of constant change is through co-learning. Work and learning are converging, as we’ve said, but the workforce now includes lots of people who are not employees. They’re partners, distributors, suppliers, contractors, etc. This is the group we should focus on:

The concept of the value chain taught us that value and costs generated by suppliers and distributors are passed along to customers. Since learning improves performance, it’s in your interest to help everyone in the chain learn to work smarter. Most chief learning officers will tell you “This is not my department.” Pity.

Secret sauce

Businesses have been trying to promote passion in the workplace while keeping other emotions at bay. Denying people their emotions is de-humanizing. We have to start treating people like people. Emotion-driven business is the new frontier. That is why I want to shoehorn another network into Clark’s matrix for The Coherent Organization: the Personal Network.

More and more of my work involves making introductions. Sometimes a project consists of completing the dots and making the connections. For me, work/life balance is a fiction. Without my personal network, I’d cease to function.

Your personal network is where you shape your aspirations, validate what’s important to you, and let your emotions play out.

This will put a lot more boxes on Clark’s matrix but that’s a topic for next time.

Please add your two cents worth.

















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The Coherent Organization

At the Internet Time Alliance, we’re big fans of narrating our work. We encourage clients to get their people to narrate their work, through blogs or other sharing media, for a number of reasons.

If you are a blogger, you know how blogging makes you reflect on your experience and draw conclusions. What’s more, if you are transparent about what you’re doing, your colleagues and acquaintances will know when and how to lend you a hand. Sharing your discoveries adds to the value of the networked Commons; I think of it as a requirement of good network citizenship.

In the last ten days, Harold Jarche, Clark Quinn, and I have been building on one another’s thoughts in public. We’re each teasing out the meaning of what we call the Coherent Organization with models.

Co·her·ent  (k-hîrnt, -hr-) means

1. Sticking together; cohering.
2. Marked by an orderly, logical, and aesthetically consistent relation of parts: a coherent essay.
3. Physics Of, relating to, or having waves with similar direction, amplitude, and phase that are capable of exhibiting interference.

(The American Heritage Dictionary)

The Coherent Organization


As standalone companies realize that they’re really extended enterprises, co-learning with customers and stakeholders becomes important as everyone faces the future together. Players throughout the corporate ecosystem need to be operating on the same wave-length. They need to be coherent. This can only happen when we’re adapting to the future, i.e. learning, at the same pace.
Internally, everyone needs to stay current. Workers need to know what one another are doing. No matter what silo we inhabit, we all need to be singing from the same hymnal. We may sing different songs (diversity builds strength) but we need be aligned to achieve a common purpose.
Harold focuses on intention, formality, and diversity. I look at linkages and drivers. Clark adds specific activities that go on amidst reflection. Help us create a unified model.

The Models


Harold got the ball rolling in a post entitled Cooperation Trumps Collaboration, in which he wrote “Collaboration happens around some kind of plan or structure, while cooperation presumes the freedom of individuals to join and participate. Cooperation is a driver of creativity.”
This is an overlay on the model Harold and I have employed when helping organizations work smarter through networks.

I chimed in that I can no more keep my mitts off an interesting model than I can pass up a plate of pistachios. I rejiggered Harold’s model to suit my own purposes:
Conversations are the stem cells of learning, and social networks are the carriers of conversations. These networks operate behind the firewall (e.g., the corporate activity stream) and outside it (e.g. the eLearning Guild). They can be personal or professional on either side of the firewall (for example, the company football pool or machinists who support Obama’s re-election). The firewall itself is becoming porous; customers and partners are increasingly privy to what was previously considered insider-only information.

Clark built on Harold’s post and presented a model of effective collaboration within work groups, such as coaching each other, using good practices for brainstorming, the elements of a learning organization, being willing to admit to problems, and being willing to lose if you don’t lose the lesson.

Communities of practice need to continue to evolve their practices, sharing issues and working together to resolve them.  Within these communities, sharing pointers as well as deeper thoughts are mechanisms for ‘stealth mentoring‘ and explicit mentoring is valuable as well.

At the outermost level, social networks are about tracking what’s happening and who knows what, looking for developments in related fields as mechanisms for improving designs, and sharing practice is a way to give back to the community.

At the intersections, you need practices of both sharing outward and bringing inward, always looking for fresh inspiration and valuable feedback. The transparency provides real value in developing trust among the constituencies.

Join the discussion


We’ve opened a discussion group in the Social Learning Centre to discuss the models and The Coherent Organization. If you’re not yet a member of the Social Learning Centre, you probably should be. It’s free. Jane Hart and more than 1,500 members keep the conversation flowing. C’mon down.


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