The need to move from organization charts to dynamic people networks

people networks
Photo by Tzido

People networks shape the world. Niall Ferguson’s book The Square and the Tower gives an excellent introduction to their history. Networks have played an important role in politics, business and daily life. They can be very public and transparent networks, or secret societies, or even fictional like parts of the Illuminati network. 

Official organizations can be very different from real networks. We all know companies where the organization chart tells one story about who makes decisions and the actual network of people that make decisions are very different. Networks can also be more dynamic than official organizations, and they can survive changes.

Companies try to become more dynamic and agile. Often organizational structures create friction to be dynamic, react rapidly or to be proactive in business. Organizations themselves could be more dynamic but then comes IT. Processes are applied to complex IT systems, but it is tough to change tools and IT solutions quickly. We have heard stories on how a CEO can use his or her network inside the organization at different levels when some quick changes or new activities are needed, and the organization is too slow to implement them.

Many organization structures and management practices have their history in military organizations. Nowadays, many people hesitate with military management styles in business, because they are seen as old-fashioned, command-and-control models. But it is important to remember that military and security environments can still also offer examples and lessons to very modern organizations.

For example, military organizations have traditionally operated with very formal models. When armies fight against each other, they have front lines, concentrate troops at points where they can make breakthroughs and defend borders. This is no longer the reality. Guerrillas, terrorists, activist cells, unofficial troops (like in the Ukraine) and dynamic networks are a more significant risk to many countries than traditional forces. Fundamental new models are now required to operate and manage military and security organizations. 

Wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Ukraine and Syria have not been about fighting between official armies, and many countries have seen attacks from local terrorists, and independent cells or individuals that have are often associated with global networks. This has forced military and security organizations to find new models for fighting against these enemies. It also means their own organizations need to be more dynamic. 

Military organizations have traditionally had very hierarchical structures. Their operations and technologies were built to support those models; command chains, rights based on organizational position and limited communications between parallel organizations. Now they have been forced to rethink their existing models. At the same time, consumerization is coming to armies too; people are using mobile phones, social networks and messaging apps during operations. Military organizations can either ignore or ban these tools or start to utilize them. Some have already taken the latter route. It also changes, how organizations operate, and especially how they can become more dynamic networks based on the situations, needs and resources.

Many companies have similar needs to find more dynamic models to operate, adjust processes based on needs and use resources rapidly where needed. This is easily in conflict with the organization charts, fixed procedures and IT systems that support processes, information sharing and communications. These needs are not only inside organizations but also with customers, partners, suppliers and other parties. It is more challenging to create and maintain dynamic networks within traditional organizations and their contact points. Networks can sometimes be different, some more hierarchical, some based on other trust artifacts. 

All this creates new needs with ICT technology to support these networks. In practice, they use informal ways of working, like video phone calls, group emails, and WhatsApp groups. But those unofficial methods don’t really include ways to manage networks, security or the systematic use of different tools. They are used to handle specific needs, not to manage networks. Most business tools have been designed to work in traditional organizations, with hierarchies, formal structures and stability.

Networks are a traditional model for people to cooperate. Digital technology offers more tools to work globally and create all kinds of networks for general or specific needs. But we don’t yet have the tools to operate these digital networks the same way people have learned to manage networks in physical life. They are based on trust that you earn and lose, and they are adjusted to daily needs. We will see new solutions emerging in this area and how the military, businesses and individuals can better create and manage digital networks.

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