E 2.0 Conference: The Evolution of the Networked Organization

Disclosure: Last week, I attended the Enterprise 2.0 Conference , Boston, MA, on a free press pass, which covered the pre-conference workshops on Monday, as well as the full three-day conference, held June 21 – June 23, at the Hynes Convention Center.

My favorite keynote from the Enterprise 2.0 Conference in Boston last week was “Managing People and Process, across a Networked Organization,” by Jim Grubb, Vice President of Corporate Communications Architecture at Cisco Systems Inc. (For more information about Jim Grubb, check out  Cisco at Enterprise 2.0 2011.)

The keynote was especially relevant to me, because the organizational issues Grubb described about how to structure the large enterprise are similar to the organizational issues technical communicators often face, when deciding how to structure information. In each case, we are moving away from traditional hierarchical structures towards a networked model, which places participants (whether that means our colleagues, customers, or ourselves), at the center of the organization.

Seven Ways to Organize Companies

In his fifteen minute talk, Grubb concisely outlined the evolution of organizational structures in companies, from the start-up to the networked model. According to Grubb, here are the seven ways companies organize themselves:

  1. Start-up/No Organization: When everyone is sitting in the same room, there isn’t much need to have leads or distinct organizational divisions.
  2. Functional: As the company grows, it makes sense to start organizing by function (Sales, Engineering, Marketing, and so on), so that those who are doing similar work are grouped together. However, as companies continue to expand in this functional model, they soon start losing sight of their customers.
  3. Customer Segment: The next phase of growth involves organizing by customer segment (in Cisco’s case, by Enterprise, Service Providers, and Commercial). Organizing by customer segment starts to be inefficient, when for example, there’s a separate router (or in the case of  readers here, a separate router manual, with redundant information), for each customer segment.
  4. Lines of Business/Product Type: To streamline, companies start organizing by lines of business or product types.
  5. Geography: The next evolution involves organizing by geography.
  6. Matrix: Companies start trying to organize for more than one objective, by for example placing customer, across the top of one axis, and geography or product- type, along the side…This matrix-ed approach may solve two of the business problems companies are trying to solve for, but not for the other axises.
  7. Networked: In a networked organization, companies strive to operate continuously and dynamically across all the axises. According to Grubb, “Your org chart becomes a people chart, bringing the right people together to focus on a business problem…Through technology, we now have the flexibility to do this…We are no longer forced into a given hierarchy…Moving forward, we now can allow people to self-organize and dynamically move between virtual organizations…Through the technology, networked organizations allow each participant to be at the center of the hierarchy…”

Examples of a Networked Organization, In Motion

In a networked organization, Grubb explained that information workers don’t “do” in the traditional sense we apply “doing” to work. Instead, Grubb explained, information workers create intellectual capital by collaborating, talking, thinking, making decisions, passing on those decisions, and so on, all through human interaction.

The ability to record and index these real-time human interactions and make them available to the entire network–eliminating the barriers of time and space–is the goal of unified communications. Grubb offered posting voicemail or WebEx meetings for the entire virtual community, as examples of re-purposing synchronous, real-time components of collaboration as asynchronous communications, available to anyone, anywhere, at any time.

Profiling members of the community becomes very important in the networked organization, so you can find the right people to work together, on any given virtual community.

Challenges for Networked Organizations

Grubb noted that despite the benefits of networked organizations,  traditional hierarchical models are much easier to measure and reward. Changing process requires new mechanisms for accountability and reward structures as well. For example, at Cisco, measuring the success of each geography/country now involves factoring in the success of each customer segment across that geography. For virtual teams to be successful, there needs to be the technology, process, and culture in place to establish and reward these kinds of collaborative behaviors, Grubb concluded.

Parallels for Technical Communicators

The evolution that Cisco’s Jim Grubb described for the networked organization directly parallels the evolution of structured documentation standards.

With structured authoring, we are striving toward putting our customers at the center of the information hierarchy–allowing them to dynamically view tagged information, in whatever ways work best for that person.

The projected benefits are greater efficiency over the documentation process and ultimately a more personalized experience for our customers.

The key challenges that face the networked organization–technology, process, and culture–are often the same collaborative challenges facing technical communicators within the large enterprise, and require similar incentives for a successful outcome.

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