30 November 2007

Mesh working rather than Matrix working

Read this very good post by Andy Mulholland (Cap Gemini CTO) about the impact of Web 2.0 collaboration on organizational structure and working practice. Andy identifies the new working practice as Mesh working:

Here is how Andy defines Mesh working:

<<[…] The change in how people work is focused on Web 2.0, and I have chosen to label this as Mesh Working to differentiate it from Matrix Working. Matrix working is broadly the capability for individuals to work at the specific tasks in which they specialise for a variety of managers, and is made possible by using client-server to allow the separation of the client activity from the data consolidation on the server. However it is at heart a data centric transaction based working method where relationships both between people and systems are ‘managed’ through a close coupled environment. Put simply the relationships in Matrix working are always pre determined, fully defined and use known data.

Put equally simply Mesh working is loose coupled, for both the people and systems, relying on forming the relationships required through the ‘interactions’ leading to the definitions of who, and what, should be found and used. The Mesh of people and systems is potentially a never ending huge open environment extending externally as well as internally rather than the closed internal world of Matrix working. […]>>

A Mesh of people is really what I also have in mind when I think of a Web 2.0 collaborative environment. It is organized chaos. Andy ends his post with this good assessment of what this means from a competitiveness point of view:

<<[…] Competitive advantage is shifting from the cost management of transactions in the back office to business optimisation in the front office and the external market. Globalisation is forcing all enterprises to compete in this space so ultimately Mesh working is being driven as a necessary response to a changing Business world. It’s a World that takes us way beyond internal agility, and flexibility, through Matrix working, and into external responsiveness through Mesh working. >>

I totally agree with this conclusion. However, leaders need to be careful about what they first need to do about it. Essentially, it first depends on their organization’s current culture. Mesh working is not compatible with an environment with a heavy hierarchical structure, where horizontal communication – let along team working - other than for prescribed “routine” processes is scarce. You cannot declare mesh working, you cannot impose it. You need to nurture it, gradually implement a conducive organizational environment, starting with a clear and unconditional support from all the CxOs. A “do what I say but not what I do” behaviour will surely not succeed.

If as a leader you want your collaborators to willingly share their knowledge outside routine business processes, you must lead by example. Maybe start a corporate personal blog accessed by all and use it to tell your vision. Mesh working is not a concept that can be applied only to the grass roots of your organization and leave the upper echelons unchanged. Mesh working implies a fundamental change structurally, culturally and technologically. All organizational values, processes and methods must be reviewed and progressively adapted to the new way of working. For example, the pay and reward mechanisms must cater for the new importance given to knowledge-sharing, idea generation and innovation.

Now, Andy implies in his article that Mesh Working is in fact not an option and that it is happening whether you like it or not. Thinking that as a leader you have today a choice to ignore it would be like if in the late 80’s/early 90’s, you would have been thinking the same of the Matrix working brought by the networked PC and the Information Age that followed. “Symptoms” of Mesh working can very probably be detected in your organization. One obvious reason is that millions of people have already socially embraced this concept largely thanks to the Web 2.0 and, seeing the benefits, it is only natural that they try to extend this behaviour in the workplace. Another reason is that some of your customer or supplier organizations will have already made the transition to Mesh working, and their collaborators will expect the same behaviours from your collaborators.

The pressure will therefore mount on all organizations to fully embrace the Knowledge Economy. Traditional Intellectual Property (e.g. Brand name, patent and trademark) will no longer suffice to build and maintain competitive advantages: Intellectual Capital leveraging through effective and efficient Mesh working is to become the key to successful business.

Peter-Anthony Glick