A New Work Order — The Art of Network Organizations
Max Becker

Max Becker

Really? Another blog about new work? Oh yes! Why? Because of reasons. But let’s try to be a bit more serious here: The term new work is one commonly used by organizations which are facing or already experiencing the systemic change induced by an increasingly digitized society. The term itself is so manifold that it would be presumptuous to attempt an in-depth discussion within one blog post. Thus, we will focus on one key asset of the new working world: the network organization.

The (social) Network

Today, one of the most urgent questions organizations ask themselves is: How can they adapt to a future that is no longer predictable? The answer to this question often revolves around the potential technological impact of the digital revolution or even our physical working environment. Hands up! Whose company recently bought some new fatboys or is attempting to literally build the myth-enshrouded open space? Sure thing, these components are fundamental to implement new ways of working together and thus speed up the process of transformation. But isn’t there a much bigger challenge that a modern organization has to address? Instead of obsessing with the arrangement of the furniture and office space, shouldn’t we ask ourselves how we could organize the actual people better?

To approach this question, let’s take a look at a typical situation from daily life: You are moving from one city to another and in order to save some money you may ask as many friends as possible to help you carry this unbelievably heavy washing machine of yours. To put it in more abstract words, you just activated your personal network in need of urgent assistance since sharing information is a common activity in our private life. We simply help each other without assuming that we have to know every detail there is.

Network Organizations on the Rise

In traditional companies, however, the situation is quite different. It seems as if asking for help, admitting we don’t know something, sharing information or even sharing what we are doing is more a desired act than an actual habit. This doesn’t match with the loose, yet dynamic networks we usually partake in within our private circles. Nevertheless, the traditional hierarchical institutions are about to change: our work lives begin to feel more than the rest of our lives especially when it comes to working together in a network. Organizations start to share information in order to help each other and create the products and services that fulfil the individual needs of their customers. Going back to the beginning of this blog post, it isn’t the number of fatboys that matters but the willingness to adapt within a rapidly changing world. Therefore, the challenge today’s companies face is primarily a question of how to set up a new paradigm for working.

“We have it in our power to begin the world over again.” (Thomas Paine)

Our current economic belief system celebrates competition among individuals. It’s about how productive you are compared to your colleagues, how many deals you can strike compared to other salesmen, and how much bonus you can get for yourself. But this system is becoming increasingly complex and individual heroes can’t save the day anymore. We need to define a new paradigm of how to work together in an organization. With the world as we know it becoming more interconnected, value creation is shifting from the individual to the collective. It will be the resilient, high-empathy teams that drive the best outcomes in the nearby future.

True impact can only happen through people who are inspired, motivated, and empowered to create a bold future. Thus, the idea of relying on each other’s competencies becomes more important than ever before. A purposeful network is where real change happens — it enables companies to unearth new values and become a pillar of modern society. Need an example? Have a look at Buurtzorg! An ambulatory neighboorhood care service from the Netherlands that is operated by self-organizing teams of ten to twelve nurses with no manager or team leader at all. Right now Buurtzorg employs two-thirds of all neighborhood nurses in the Netherlands while the headquarter team consists of only around thirty people. Furthermore, Buurtzorg is not just one of biggest nursing services, but also the most profitable one as well.

This blog post was inspired by the book “Reinventing Organizations” — a definite must read!

I am Max, Partner at 1789 — Beyond Revolution , a strategic consultancy with a focus on helping organizations create new structures and empowering teams. Do you agree or disagree with my thoughts? Do you want to share your story? Please leave a comment below!

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