Chairman Ed

Connecting people, ideas and processes

Hybrid Organizations – Part Hierarch, Part Network

It has been my observation that when society transitions from one set of concepts to another we often use hybrid, or bridging, concepts to help us in that transition. For example, we currently are talking about e-books, which are a hybrid of something old, “books”, and something new, “electronic”. We know we’re inventing something new here, but we don’t know what it is going to look like yet.

 

What I’m calling a hybrid organization is a similar bridging concept, like my hybrid car. My hybrid car is a step toward an electric/electronic vehicle – an e-vehicle. How, and if, we get to fully electric vehicles and the  infrastructure necessary to support them is still undefined, but many people are bringing forth their ideas and products as steps to create a more concrete definition.

 

I believe we are in a similar process in terms of creating network organizations. Many people are working on the Internet tools that can become the infrastructure for supporting network relationships and organizations. Social networks are a part of this process.

 

One of my beliefs about the value of a network organization over a hierarchy is that it can scale to larger size. In an era of increasing globalization we will need organizations of sufficient size to span the globe and potentially have millions of people involved in the organization. Hierarchies with their need to add additional levels as they increase in size become less responsive, because things have to move through channels or chain of command, which continues to lengthen.  Go back to my Shaky Pyramid post and think about what that diagram looks like as you keep on adding more layers.

 

In terms of scaling think about Facebook. It currently handles something in excess of 750 million users. To support all those users it has about 2000 staff members, or one staff member for each 375,000 users. Now imagine that every one of those users was part of the same organization and not simply using the system for chitchat. What if instead of Facebook it was “No Book University” with a global learning community of 750 million people?

 

Perhaps in that light, we could see Facebook as a hybrid organization, a small hierarchy that creates and manages the infrastructure and a very large network organization of learners, facilitators and teachers. Can you imagine that scale of a learning organization with these tools? Now try imagining what the organization chart would look like for a hierarchical organization that might have that same scale. Do you think it’s possible for a hierarchy to function at that scale?

2 responses to “Hybrid Organizations – Part Hierarch, Part Network

  1. Chris September 23, 2011 at 12:12 pm

    Ed, hi. Lots of good ideas and concepts. I liked the post about the hybrid organization. It seems to me that we will always need a mix of both network and hierarchical models, within the same organization. My sense is that the network model works better for knowledge-based companies, and for those responsible for strategy definition. The hierchical model may work better for manufacturing-based companies, and where the “rubber meets the road”. Along these lines, we may be able to draw/visualize a hybrid organizational model with the help of the usual vertical and horizontal axes. As an example, the horizontal line may go from manufacturing on the left to knowledge based on the right, while the vertical line may go from physically grounded activities to mind-based activities. This kind of visual model may help to understand what fits where, and may indicate where we are going next as hybrid organizations continue to evolve. Bye Chris

    • Chairman Ed October 1, 2011 at 8:50 pm

      Chris, thanks for the comments.

      Network organizations definitely are evolving as a way for people to work together. I’ve seen this process of hybridization occur when personal computers first came on the scene and we had to transition from an existing mode of thinking/operating to a new set of concepts. We often need bridging concepts. I think of things like “electronic spreadsheets” as a bridging concept between old paper spreadsheets and today’s matrix modeling software.

      Hybrid cars to me are a bridge moving toward fully electric vehicles. The gasoline engine is the old hierarchical organization and the electric engine, with its limited functionality currently, is similar to the emerging network organization. I’m involved with a company that has a traditional hierarchy combined with a large network of people who actually sell and deliver the service. It’s very much like a hybrid vehicle in that the organizational power is still in the hierarchy because the tools aren’t there yet for the network portion to really power the organization. Similarly, in my hybrid car the electric engine today is more an assist, but it does make the vehicle much more efficient. The network portion of the organization I work with has a similar impact.

      I get your point that certain types of businesses might fit within a hierarchy better than a network, although I do think it will affect manufacturing as that also changes. If you look at what’s happening with three-dimensional printers you’ll see new organizational forms emerging and a very different economic model. If you check out http://www.shapeways.com/ you will find a network of people who are using this service to manufacture in a whole different model.

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