Navigating virtual organisations – building a virtual network roadmap
I have worked for three organisations that were mainly remote with a small HQ. And one of the first things you have to do remotely is get the lay of the land. Who is the glue that keeps the place moving? Who knows the internal mapping of who gets what done? What person becomes a dead-end in your quest to get something published? I really feel for someone who started a new job in the last year who does not have that organisational capital investment behind them in making their way through an organisational network.
I have seen the same in graduate school groupwork, both successes and failures in communication and reaching common goals.
Networks are relationships, based on equity and mutual trust, that enable dialogues to prosper and bear fruit. These are the links within teams or departments that are built on patterns of interaction. One of the challenges in the last year is using previously built organisational capital to get things done. So how do we do that?
Creating white space for creativity
Organisations actually create ambiguity on how things are done so that members of the team can create their own pathway by experimenting and improvising. The kinds of characteristics that can be found in a networked organisation that allows this kind of creative white space are:
Common goals and objectives: There is a common pull in the team towards an acknowledged activity. When you see this being not as clear (like in a pandemic), then some of that white space for creativity disappears as well.
Shared knowledge: Synergies are created where team thinking can be applied by several members of the group together. Ideas are seen as complementary and challenging for the organisation to achieve. That shared knowledge can rejuvenate the organisation when things get stagnate.
Shared work and building of trust: As I saw personally yesterday, a networked organisation encourages shared work. And giving that white space for growth between participants in the network allows a building of trust and cooperation. And that grows the opportunities for even more creative expression.
Shared decision making: If culturally the organisation allows its members to have a say in decisions, then the networked organisation knows who to call on when a shared decision needs to be made. That networked trust between virtual participants means that there is an understanding of intellectual wealth in the network and how to leverage that wealth in the decision making process.
Dealing with ambiguity
When ambiguity is excessively high, people are confused and anxious, because they lack a frame of reference to interpret their work and actions within the organisational network. However when ambiguity is suppressed, people become complacent and unwilling to experience or change as they are shielded from the need to have to adapt.
One way to deal with ambiguity is not through explicit instructions, but shared rewards. If a virtual team is pulling to the same finish line with the same shared priorities and shared timing, then a structure is formed that enables the virtual team to have those necessary reference frames to reduce anxiety and conflict.
Dynamic relationships are key to networked organisations, and our new normal in organisational development is how to enable those networks to be built and supported within a framework that is neither physical or experiential.