Leading Towards a Network Organization

In a previous blog, I wrote about why you should transform your organization into a network organization and promised to write about how to lead that transformation.

To recap, a network organization is all about communities based on connectors and content. Connectors come from all layers of your hierarchy, know who’s who, know many people, have contacts throughout the organization, and get things done by connecting people to each other. Content is about themes, projects, focus points, going-concern and growing-concern points of attention.

So, how do you lead the transformation from a traditional (hierarchy-oriented) organization to a network organization?

Acknowledge your position.

As a leader, you need to consider how your position changes. You will no longer be the traditional leader who determines what, how, when, by whom, and so forth. You will become a facilitator, a connector, and a source of inspiration. And that transformation might be scary for you – you may be treading uncharted territory. Acknowledge what emotions you will need to deal with during the transformation. It’s a natural tendency to fall back on what worked in the past – especially when an urgent challenge rears its head! Think upfront how you intend to overcome these natural tendencies.

Get your team on board.

The earlier you get your (management) team involved in the process, the better. Enter a dialog with them about the network organization way of thinking.

Start by writing a scenario.

Granted, it’s paradoxical. On the one hand, you use the design thinking principle that you don’t really know the solution you’re after; on the other hand, you write a scenario for what your business will look like in the future (implying a known solution). Your scenario includes the ideal situation and the various challenges and opportunities you envision. How far into the future depends on your industry: three years is probably the minimum. As to your focus, limit yourself to the why of your team. And you as leader don’t write this scenario – you get your team to write it in a collaborative effort. Straightaway embrace the iterative concept: the scenario is a work-in-progress, to be updated regularly in the future.

Identify themes.

You then lead your team to the next step: given how your business will look like in the future, what themes are important? What challenges may you expect? What areas of innovation will make your organization excellent? Help your team identify themes that are wider than simple goals that need to be reached.

Identify community managers.

Once the themes are clear, it’s time to identify community managers. A community needs two kinds of people: people with expertise on content and connectors. Ideally your community manager embodies both and is passionate about the theme. Community managers may be (management) team members, but may come from all layers of your organization. Of course, you need to do more than only identify them – you’ll need to get them on board too! And that will entail more than just getting them to say yes – you may need to give them a little training on community management . . .

Get your internal communication involved.

Once you have your themes and your community managers in place, you need to attract community members. And for that, you need to use internal communication to spread the word and to keep the communication flowing so that communities may grow. The idea behind each community is ideally that co-workers may choose which community interests them and may choose to join or leave a community at will, without giving a reason. Thereby you hope to attract expertise from throughout your organization for every community.

Celebrate results.

The beauty of a network organization is that communities are never finished. They may redesign themselves and their theme as the organization adapts and develops, making the organization a learning organization in the true sense of the word. Even though each result is for-the-time-being, it should be celebrated. Also via the internal communication channels. Frequent updates from each of the communities will ensure the right people will join at the right moment so that you can rise above dealing reactively to the challenges your organization is faced with!

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