The Organization of the Future:
by Jessica Lipnack
Executive Magazine from Unisys
Jessica Lipnack, a co-founder and director of NetAge Inc.,
was president of The Networking Institute Inc., a consulting firm
in West Newton, Massachusetts advised clients on how to gain strategic
advantage by networking their organizations both internally and
externally. Its clients included Apple Computer, AT&T Universal
CardServices, Bank/Boston, Hewlett-Packard, Steelcase, and Vice
President Al Gore's National Performance Review. Lipnack and her
husband, Jeffrey Stamps, are co-authors of six books on networks.
Their most recent is Virtual
Teams: People Working Across Boundaries With Technology (John
Wiley & Sons, 2000). Here Lipnack talks about the emergence
of networks and how to create links within your organization.
The information age has arrived, and with it a new form of organization
- the network: a distributed, spread out form of organization that
enables people to work together without being in the traditional
boss/employee relationship. The networked organization enables teams
of people who are geographically distributed to be connected by
shared purpose. It's proven to be a very effective form of organization,
whether we're talking about business or government.
Links are the distinguishing feature of the age of the network.
The fastest way to transform a hierarchy or bureaucracy is to add
links of communication among the levels and among the isolated specialties.
What you end up with is a very stable, yet very flexible, structure.
That's what we're looking for - stable organizations that are also
highly flexible. A network can constantly reconfigure itself, depending
on what needs to be done. A traditional bureaucracy always looks
the same. Every network looks different.
There are five basic principles that we believe to be applicable
to all forms of networks: unifying purpose, independent members,
voluntary links, multiple leaders, and integrated levels.
Unifying purpose. This is the
glue and the driver for the network. Common views, values, and goals
hold a network together, while a shared focus on desired results
keeps a network in synch and on track. Every member of the network
must be working toward a common goal - namely, the overall business
objectives of the organization. This is where the network is distinct
from traditional bureaucracy, where goals can differ from department
to department, and rules and regulations hold the group together.
In the network, everyone is held together by a shared vision of
the organizationís goals and what it is attempting to accomplish.
Independent members. Individual
independence is a prerequisite for organizational interdependence.
Each member must be free to join or form a network whenever coordination
with others will enhance productivity. But members must also be
free to perform independently when it is the best way to be effective
and to contribute their full abilities to the organization. Networks
promote both the "me" and the "we."
Voluntary Links. Links in every
direction distinguish the network. Individual members establish
links with other members. As communication pathways increase, people
interact more often. As more relationships develop, trust strengthens.
Links cannot be preestablished or forced from above - they have
to arise naturally as members of the network seek to achieve common
goals. In the past few years, the cost of creating links of communication
has plummeted, and the truly networked organization has become a
Networks require fewer bosses - they are "leaderful,"
not leaderless. Each person or group has something unique to contribute
at some point in the process. With more than one leader, the network
as a whole had great resilience. It is not dependent on a single
member for direction, and the fact that each member has a leadership
role generates self-esteem and a sense of purpose that drives the
progress of the network as a whole.
Integrated levels. Networks
involve both the hierarchy and the "lower-archy " in decision-making,
which leads the organization to action rather than simply making
recommendations across groups. Integration of the different levels
of an organization makes the network a whole rather than a sum of
the parts. Some elements of hierarchy are present in the network,
but the distinctions between top and bottom are not as strong as
in a traditional bureaucracy - every level works together and functions
as a part of the whole.
I am not saying that hierarchy is necessarily a bad thing, and
this is where I differ from most people doing management theory.
There are aspects of hierarchy that are extremely helpful and aspects
of bureaucracy that you might want to hold onto. you need logical
groupings at many different levels in order to organize large numbers
of people. You can't organize 10,000 people in a network - it just
doesn't make any sense. Hierarchy and bureaucracy can create order
and structure in task environments, but you need to transform them
in place through links.
Finally, another critical element in organizational structure is
technology, and we haven't necessarily been developing the right
technology for our organizations. We still have a very individualistic
model of what people need.
Think about word processing. We have great word processors for
individuals, but very poor word processors for groups of people
working together. We have the ability to correct documents back
and forth, but that's not the same as the ability to construct new
ideas together. Groupware is in a very primitive state and we have
yet to perfect ways of enabling groups of people to work in the
same creative electronic space. That doesn't mean we canít
do it - it just means we aren't there yet. Technology has yet to
reach organizations in the way it needs to.
In general, the better the technological support, the better the
group - as long as the technology serves the needs of the organization
and fits in with its larger strategic priorities. Before investing
in technology, make sure you have asked whether the technology helps
the group to understand its work better.
We must design technology based on the work being done. We need
to create links that allow an idea at the top to be the vision that
is played out in the work of people at the bottom. Creating these
links and fostering cooperation is the essence of the networked