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Organization Culture: Barriers to 2.0 Adoption

CARY, NC. January 2010, by

How would you define organizational culture?  I’m finding it’s an increasingly important question.

To interact and function in the digital 2.0 World (Knowledge Economy, Flat World, 21st Century: choose your paradigm), it’s become critical that leaders understand the internal dynamics of the teams they are leading. How will an organization play in the new world? How will it connect? Drive value? Compete?

An org chart might show us structure and intent, but to truly grasp how decisions are being made, we need to understand the organization’s culture – a task that’s easier said than done. Ask enough people and you might get a sense of it, but its dimensions and reach can remain elusive.

Conceptually, org culture might be framed like this:

A complex, loosely-defined amalgamation of beliefs and behaviors of a group of people that yields significant influence on what actually gets done.

Peter Drucker called the topic “amorphous” (literally, without shape) because it defies the crisp definition that most in management prefer. Personally, I think it will likely fall more in the domain of leadership, aligned with Grace Hopper’s pithy: “You manage things, but you lead people.”

Regardless of how you try to frame it or categorize it, two key questions emerge. Can culture be overtly changed? Many, especially academics, say ‘no’. But can culture be influenced? That’s a topic of some very interesting debate and the subject of this series.

I’ll concede now, I’m not an expert but I’m a practitioner and a survivor. I’ve written vision statements in attempts to shape culture, and I’ve been stymied by mandates from above that were rendered impossible by the forces of culture. At one time or another, we’ve all worn cultural handcuffs.

Series Framing. In the weeks ahead, I’ll post on the many aspects of culture using this outline.

  1. Org Culture: Dimensions. (ref: Schein) 1/25/10
  2. Org Culture: 4 Structural Forces. (ref: Handy) 3/02/10
  3. Org Culture and Complexity: Useful Patterns. (ref: HSDI: Eoyang, Halladay, Nations) 3/20/10
  4. Culture Change in Government. (ref: Eggers/O’Leary and B.Noveck) 3/21/10
  5. Org Culture: Interventions. (ref: Kotter) 4/10/10
  6. It Takes a Village: Insights on Culture and Community in Local Government 9/10/10
  7. Collaborative Culture: Insights from Peter Senge 1/11/11
  8. in response to Tara Hunt post started 11/17/12

I’ve touched base with colleagues in OD, KM & GOV2.0. Several are planning to post insights via comments.

This will be collaboration from the outset.

Barriers to 2.0. Getting at culture has been on my mind since 1989. At the time, a few short years out of college, I recall rifling through Rosabeth Kanter’s classic Change Masters, hoping to unpack my first run-in with hierarchy, silos and cultures of control.

I asked, “Isn’t there a better way?”

Ah, the innocence of youth.

In the years since, I’ve tried to follow Kanter’s advice. Sometimes my interventions, at once brave and naive, have actually worked. But 20 years later, I’m still in chorus with my colleagues, still reciting that same old question.

The Trouble with Silos. As we’ll see in coming posts, silo thinking and cultures that favor stability work against the innovative forces of “2.0”. Innovation is being held hostage on an increasing number of fronts. Silo’s are designed for specialists, driving to standards and removing variance. That often means collaborative behaviors are counter-culture.

It’s a challenge of immense proportions. Let’s try to find some answers.

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Starting 2010 with a Bias for Action

It’s the New Year, and there’s no time like the present to embrace all the things we spent 2009 talking about. Trouble is, there was lots of talk in 2009. Talk full of buzz words. Some claim that we’ve begun talking in circles. Maybe so. But in the process, we’ve laid an important foundation.

Look at it like this:

Meaningful, sustainable change starts with an informed conversation. Together, it’s easier to frame the future, to find the best path forward.

In 2009, via blogs and chats, we began to frame that future.

In many ways, 2009 had to happen. It’s not entirely clear how, but we survived it. We realigned our cost structures, built our networks, and learned how to interact using social media.

Now, with scarcely time for a breath, the hard work begins anew. Let’s start 2010 with a clear mindset. Here are four key themes, resolutions to guide our collaboration efforts:

  1. Bias for action. The key step in breaking the talk cycle.
  2. Bias for engagement. Moving away from the Web 1.0 broadcast model of communicating, toward a more valuable 1:1 exchange that builds relationships.
  3. Bias for learning and discovery. I’ve posted on the need for a learning culture, not only increased higher priority for education, but renewed focus on critical thinking and semantic clarity. If we succeed, the prize is a knowledge renaissance.
  4. Bias for change. None of the above will matter if we continue to cling to the past. Our risk-averse cultures are often biased to resist change. To move forward, we need to embrace it.

What does action-oriented collaboration look like? Here are some case studies in virtual community that seek to use engagement and discovery to drive new solutions:

  1. Look for some immediate changes at #smchat. Building on insights from 2009, we’re brainstorming how we can drive even more value for members. Thought leadership and emergent insight have been the core of our value stream. How can we leverage that?
  2. We’re at an inflection point for exciting things w/ #ecosys, our pilot project on public engagement to drive social innovation.
  3. Take a look at what’s happening at govloop. Over 20,000 voices from across government are self-organizing. Ideas are everywhere.

Let me know if you know of others.

2010 will be a time of culture change and new paradigms. We don’t have much choice. So strap in and hold on. We’ve got some work to do.

A Landscape for Discovery

Learning and innovation have a common thread.  In simple terms, their mission is to expand what we know. We begin at familiar places, we move to areas of uncertainty, to explore .. then, with luck and a fair wind, we return a little better informed.

Let’s call this mission one of discovery.

Seeking knowledge is a core human aspiration, a measure of what makes our species unique. Unfortunately its a path from which many have drifted. The more rigorous aspects of critical thinking and complex problem solving are now often left to experts, those among the shrinking ranks of science and corporate R&D. As I’ve written about a knowledge renaissance in other posts, I’ve come to the conclusion that  more people need to be able to engage on harder problems. And we need better ways to frame the gaps.

Take a look at this picture:


In the lower left hand corner we start with ‘what we know’.  As we move out, we launch our journey of discovery. Do we have a direction? That depends on our situation and objectives. Perhaps we launch multiple journeys in succession. Or we explore in parallel. Or maybe we just wander around, afraid to venture far from familiar territory.

In every case, the journey back is when we extract value. We apply what we’ve learned. We adapt, adding to our knowledge base, giving each successive journey a head start.

This model was developed by Mary Nations of Nations Alliance here in Raleigh, with input from Holladay and Cheesebrow at HSDI. I find it particularly fascinating because of its potential for broad application. Think of how we might reframe education reform; paradigms for innovation and complex systems; a reinforced foundation for knowledge management (KM); a fresh look at the learning organization.

At a minimum, I think we’ve established some context .. a canvas on which to chart our journeys of discovery. Look across this landscape and into the future. What do you see?

Insights from 10/15 NC Inmagic Session

Recently, I had the chance to speak with a group of NC-based Inmagic customers. The crowd was packed with experienced KM practitioners, many with library science backgrounds. While framing a “knowledge renaissance” might have sounded ambitious in other venues, with this audience, it was time to swing for the fences.

AMG112799c-Inmagic-NC-1015

I’d laid out the core themes in a prior post, but as with any productive collaboration, new ideas can emerge when people come together with different perspectives, applying alternative contexts to old problems, or approaching issues in unexpected ways. This Inmagic session was no exception.

Here are some of the takeaways:

  1. People produce knowledge, not process or technology; as ‘knowledge workers’, they do this by applying context to raw information; metadata (via tagging) continues to be a primary means
  2. Due to the flood of electronic content, the workload of knowledge workers is ever increasing
  3. Finding and keeping track of authoritative SME’s (subject matter experts) has become increasingly difficult
  4. Meaningful relationships are essential elements of collaboration and community
  5. Engagement (rather than passive participation) is required
  6. Understanding complexity is a key building block in the evolution of learning organizations
  7. Social media is unlocking many doors to knowledge worker collaboration, but proliferation of niche SM tools remains a challenge; vendors are making headway as they work toward the needed integration, a key factor in Enterprise 2.0 enablement
  8. Learning and innovation share common threads (discovery, visualization, vetting of alternative solutions), prompting the question: are ‘learning’ and ‘innovation’ really the same thing? or perhaps driven from the same cognitive skill base?
  9. There is a new imperative to foster “cultures of learning”.

If you’ve followed my last few posts in this thread, you may note the evolution on the ‘cultures of learning’ concept. I now see it as a required baseline. Culture has always been an important factor. But for me, the ‘learning’ imperative emerged during the preparation of the deck and the discussions that followed.

So our session proved the point: we can always learn .. if we dare to listen, and to keep an open mind.

AMG112803a-Inmagic-NC-1015

Here’s a look at the slides.

Thanks again to my hosts at Inmagic and the KM practitioners they assembled. Together, we shed some new light on the path to Enterprise 2.0, the future of KM, and the steps to achieve a Knowledge Renaissance.

On Cultures of Learning

Since August, I’ve been on a journey. My posts have ranged from social innovation and ecosystem reform to Enterprise 2.0, the pitfalls of traditional Knowledge Management (KM), and the first inklings of a knowledge renaissance.

Do you see common elements? What if we made an effort to foster cultures of learning throughout our social and commercial ecosystems?  If we assumed there were shared threads, what kind of tapestry could we weave?

..

A Knowledge Renaissance

..

At the core of such a model would be teams of people, working to understand and improve the many problems and challenges in front of them. Let’s call that process collaboration. Social media is making this a virtual experience, removing traditional geographic and political barriers. Now anyone can collaborate with virtually anyone, at little or no cost. All it takes is a commitment of time, and a sense of purpose. What would they be working towards? The stuff of paradigm shifts, really: emergent insight, knowledge, or simply a better “way of doing things”. So we’ll call the outcome by its rightful name: innovation.

Now let’s look at examples in two distinct areas:

Social context. In areas like public education and healthcare, a focus on stakeholder outcomes is gaining increasing priority. Many have grown frustrated by a current state that is broken and dysfunctional. Even now, social innovators are forming ranks to attack issues in our ecosystems.

Commercial context. Still other teams begin to work in cross-functional ways to drive new organizational models. Focus on individual contribution increases. Silos are seen as the problem. Under banners like “Enterprise 2.0” and “Social Business Design” corporate innovators are building new models for networked interaction and collaboration.

Today, social and corporate cultures rule the status quo, and are routinely identified as the most critical barrier to change. The alternative? We need to build cultures that embrace learning as a fundamental requirement, bringing open minds and critical thinking to the table.

Behind the scenes, learning and innovation are woven tightly together.

Here’s the bottom line: if it sounds ambitious, it is. But the foundational work is underway and social media has unlocked many new doors. Its work that needs our energy and our focus. Are you on board? I’d love to get your thoughts.

Imagine: A Knowledge Renaissance

Close your eyes, and imagine:

a world where education and learning are priorities, with families planting and nurturing the first critical seeds of curiosity in their children;

a place where businesses of every size and shape focus their talent on innovations that improve the human condition, less obsessed with maximizing dividends and more focused on the triple bottom line of profit, people and planet;

a time when communities are quick to form around the shared values and talents of people around them, when insights are traded as a valuable currency, and information silos are relegated to history books.

It’s one tapestry, really. Can you see the common threads? It’s all about people. In fact, relationships not only matter, they’re at the core. Collaboration is the rule, not the exception. And our cultures embrace knowledge and knowledge sharing at every level.

On Thursday 10/15 in Raleigh, I shared my perspective on a coming Knowledge Renaissance. We discussed how people can tap social processes and technologies, first to find each other, then to collaborate. We also discussed the value of learning, the positive dynamics of human interaction in communities, and the roles we can play to revive learning science.

Let’s face it. Taking on century-old paradigms won’t be easy. We’re gathering up threads for a new tapestry.

I’m pulling together the key takeaways. Meantime, thanks to everyone who came out to participate in the discussion. Stay tuned.

Unraveling Complexity (the Missing Link): A new approach for solving problems in Social Ecosystems

For months I’ve been reaching out to colleagues to explore barriers to collaboration, a key tool in the social innovator’s toolbox. Among those queried (and in spite of diverse backgrounds), virtually all had experienced significant barriers to collaboration over the years including silo-thinking, dated and inefficient problem solving models, cultures of control, and a strong, prevailing lack of trust.

Consensus? The barriers to innovation seem to be as universal as they are frustrating.

So something is broken. What is the root cause?

Beth Noveck and David Johnson have published important research on how new Social Media collaboration technologies can change the game. Their perspective on a New Science of Complexity is summarized in this People & Place blog post and explained further in an excerpt from their research. Their focus was the U.S. EPA (including the Federal process for environmental research and legislation) but their conclusion, which I agree with strongly, is that the principles are applicable in business (#e20) and broader social venues (#gov20) as well.

My primary takeaway?  I now believe that INNOVATION IN COMPLEX ECOSYSTEMS will depend on an improved collaboration process – a new middle ground for problem solving – that balances large-scale central organizational approach with grass-roots contributions by individuals. It is about finding the “sweet spot” between rigid structure and adaptive, organic sourcing of ideas. In a new and somewhat uncharted public collaboration space, it means that the forces of organizational scale and leverage can be networked – connected – with discrete centers (or hubs) for contribution to produce more rigorous solutions.

At the core of this thinking? A realization that traditional large-scale organizations (with their central thinking, hierarchical layers, and silos of functional experts) are generally ineffective when dealing with complex situations. Quite literally, they are too rigid. Without the ability to adapt to new variables or to coordinate across silos, grid-lock ensues. And complex social ecosystems are impacted, since “sending in experts” is how we tend to attack these issues. On the list? The well known structural challenges in energy, sustainable food and water sources, public education and healthcare.

What’s needed is an outright paradigm shift in problem solving models that are fundamentally more interactive and cross-functional. And focusing on complexity theory is key, because it begins to unlock some new doors. For one, there must be an organic aspect that allows solution teams to learn, self-correct and grow. And to meet the requirement of connecting people more dynamically, Social Media is the ideal technology. Some examples? Think about experts engaged in live chat. Acceleration of thought synergies. Tools to merge and re-mix knowledge. Ability to leverage and extend dynamic repositories.

With focus and coordination, we can work to find the elusive “sweet spot”.

In terms of naming and framing the problem, the above research makes significant strides. The next step is critical as well, and is just as exciting: in pockets across the internet, the new collaboration is already starting to appear.

Are you seeing it too? Let’s talk, I’ll show you where and how.