Wirearchy and Social Network Collaboration
According to digital workplace researcher Jane McConnell—who each year publishes a report on digital workplace trends—“A multi-year perspective shows that organizations are moving toward ways of working that reflect the principle of wirearchy.”
Even though the term, “wirearchy,” was created by Jon Husband more than 10 years ago, it is still a relatively fringe concept in the mainstream business world. In my own small way, I’d like to help remedy that situation.
Wirearchy, according to Husband, is a principle for the interconnected age; more specifically, it is “a dynamic two-way flow of power and authority, based on knowledge, trust, credibility, and a focus on results, enabled by interconnected people and technology.” Whereas a traditional hierarchy operates on the basis of command and control, wirearchy operates on champion and channel—championing ideas and innovation (generated in the social network) and channeling time, energy, authority, and other resources to testing those ideas. Within a wirearchy, knowledge flows tend to be more horizontal than vertical, and problems are solved by engaging with distributed knowledge sources within social networks. Things get done through connections and collaborations.
So far, wirearchy might seem to be somewhat utopian: a counter-cultural, flat-world concept of work. But not so fast. According to Husband, “Wirearchy will not render hierarchy obsolete, nor the need for direction and control; rather it will render them more necessary. However, it will change the meaning of those terms and how they are used and experienced.”
In my understanding of the term, vertical structures in a wirearchy would not be fixed; instead they would become more emergent and temporary (loose hierarchies). When social technologies are embedded in the workspace, teams can form and dissolve very quickly on an ad hoc basis depending on need and interest. Sebastien Pacquet refers to this capability as Ridiculously Easy Group Forming.
While social collaboration tools are unlikely to displace e-mail, they will force many of our existing work habits and skills to be recalibrated. The more conversational, non-linear, context-rich, and visible workflows enabled by social tools will challenge many of us. In my experience, there are currently three social collaboration/wirearchy capability clusters we all need to develop.
- Attention: Being aware of the social collaboration platforms or discrete tools available within the organization, and their potential for improving individual, group, and organizational performance.
- Fluency: Ability to use available asynchronous and synchronous social collaboration tools effectively—separately and together—to achieve desired outcomes.
- Learning: Ongoing development of personal know-how and adaptability as social technologies evolve and business uses change.
- Communication: Ability to utilize the media capabilities of social networking tools to create impactful messages that inform, influence, develop relationships, and provide context (e.g., working-out-loud, which is also called observable working and narrating work).
- Networking: Ability to form network ties (strong and weak) with diverse individuals and groups inside and outside the organization.
- Self-Branding: Creating and maintaining an authentic and rich online profile/presence that establishes your identity and credibility—including personal information, current work context, experience and expertise, and contact details.
- Organization: Ability to establish routines and methods for locating, analyzing, filtering, critiquing curating, and archiving content, e.g., social media calendar, activity streams, alerts, tagging, social bookmarking, and use of aggregation tools.
- Participation: Engaging frequently in a range of information consumption and production activities that contribute to network flows and value creation, e.g., Likes, Comments Subscriptions, Sharing, Forum Discussions, Updates, Blogging and Microblogging, Mashups and Collaborations.
- Sense-making: Ability to derive the meaning and significance of content from multiple and fragmented sources/contexts, e.g., themes patterns, trends.
While we all need to actively engage in developing these skills, realizing the benefits of social collaboration in an organization will depend on leader commitment and engagement. By “leader,” I mean those individuals with formal leadership positions, and those informal leaders who emerge within the network and achieve a significant degree of influence.
For leaders—and those wanting to develop their social collaboration leadership—we should highlight three additional capability clusters.
- Technology + Strategy
- Engagement + Capacity
- Content + Alignment
Technology + Strategy: A social network collaboration leader must not only pay attention to the social technologies available and use them fluently, but also think about them strategically. How can the platforms/tools contribute directly to the achievement of strategic business objectives, e.g., innovation, market entry, profitability?
Engagement + Capacity: Beyond engaging with individuals, a social collaboration leader must consider the vibrancy and value-creation health of the network as a whole. What can be done to encourage linkages between contributing individuals and groups, and increase the productive capacity of the organization?
Content + Alignment: A social collaboration leader should not try to dictate content flows on the network—that would incapacitate the serendipitous power of the network—but there is no reason why a leader cannot influence through his or her contributions.
Respected commentator on digital business models Dion Hinchcliffe said on a blog posting earlier this year, “…technology has officially pulled well ahead of the workplace skills of even the most proactive manager or line worker.” If he says digital skills are lagging behind, we should pay attention.
- What social networking tools are available in my organization for cross-border collaboration?
- Am I aware of how these tools could benefit me, my team, and my organization?
- Are my current skills adequate for making the best use of these tools?
- What training is necessary to close my biggest skill gaps?
- Where can I find that training?
For more information, see:
Jane McConnell: http://www.netjmc.com/
Jon Husband: http://wirearchy.com/
Dion Hinchcliffe: http://dionhinchcliffe.com/
Terence Brake is the director of Learning & Innovation, TMA World (http://www.tmaworld.com/training-solutions/), which provides blended learning solutions for developing talent with borderless working capabilities. Brake specializes in the globalization process and organizational design, cross-cultural management, global leadership, transnational teamwork, and the borderless workplace. He has designed, developed, and delivered training programs for numerous Fortune 500 clients in the United States, Europe, and Asia. Brake is the author of six books on international management, including “Where in the World Is My Team?” (Wiley, 2009) and e-book “The Borderless Workplace.”