Developing the Adaptable Learning Organisation – by Collaborative Intelligence

Introduction

The abbreviation “IQ” was coined by the psychologist William Stern for the German term Intelligenzquotient for ‘scoring method’ for intelligence tests in 1912. Over one hundred years later we’re about to move the goalposts well and truly into the 21st. century. Before we talk more about intelligence, let’s consider for the moment the difference between two organisational paradigms: The ‘traditional’ and the ‘untraditional’, which for the sake of argument will build on the accepted model of the ‘Learning Organisation.’

The Traditional Organisation

Traditional hierarchies and processes can be thought of from two perspectives: As an ‘operating system’ dictating the extents that the ‘people system’ are able to operate within: People and teams operate as the foundation upon which the structure of the organization rests, managers sending corporate or organisational strategies, plans, time schedules, direction on down from the penthouse suite to the team leaders and teams on the floors below, who then implement that strategy and convert it into organizational benefit.

The problem is, the strategies being developed in the penthouse suite often fail to reflect the disruptive environment the organisation is a part of and relies on for its markets or existence. Information is kept specific to the team domain, meaning it doesn’t get shared or is able to cross-pollinate other team’s ideas and understanding keeping the organisation inflexible and unable to adapt to the changing environment.

The Learning Organisation

In the learning organisation, leaders are designers, stewards, and teachers according to Peter Senge, whose breakthrough book ‘The Fifth Discipline’ changed we already thought back in 1990. The world has changed a lot since then, but the message still remains the same: That the problem with traditional ‘operating systems’ is that these are most often implemented by management are not capable of handling the dynamic challenges of complexity, change and person to person interactions that increasingly define how we do business today. The people at the bottom traditionally go about doing what they are good at using their intelligence in the fulfillment of strategical objectives. Until recently, this is the way things are done. But not any longer.

TradOrg

Creative Commons Licence
CO-Q by Mark Dyson is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

In the learning organisation our actions create our reality. Our reality is who we are, who we work with, how we can contribute to the success of the organisation so we have a place in its growth and development, cementing us as people in the greater context of sharing and interacting.

  • The structure is based on people, not on strategy
  • The division of information and team working is a thing of the past
  • Managers are not a barrier between us and the development of strategy

Dealing with Disruption and Change

In times of change and disruption, strategy can be or even worse, non-aligned to an appreciation of context and operating environment. Kotter introduced the idea of a new operating system continuously assesses fit for purpose, monitoring and to provide an active self-adjusting means of implementing strategy:

‘An organisation that’s facing a real threat or eyeing a new opportunity tries – and fails – to cram through some sort of major transformation using a change process worked in the past. But the old ways of setting and implementing strategy are behind us… the existing structures and processes need an additional element to address the challenges associated with complexity and change. The solution is second operating system, devoted to the design and implementation of strategy using an agile network and a very different set of processes.’ (Kotter 2012)

Advocating a network instead of hierarchies, the keypoints of the second operating system were:

  • continually assesses the business, industry, organisation
  • reacts with greater agility, speed & creativity
  • compliments the traditional hierarchy freeing resources
  • makes enterprises easier to run
  • accelerates strategic change

LearningOrg
Creative Commons Licence
CO-Q by Mark Dyson is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

What we have is a reversal of the traditional model where strategy and objectives, visions and concepts must be aligned to the eyes, ears and minds working together – adapting and adjusting to latest observations, perceptions, understandings and insights to keep on top and ahead. This is why we advocate CO-Q or Collaborative intelligence. The common denominator characterizing multi-agent, distributed systems.

In such a distributed system each agent is uniquely positioned to contribute to an evolutionary network of people interacting to produce intelligent outcomes, sharing information & reusing it so others learn and share their knowledge in turn. So what happens is the external ‘reality’ is used to foster interaction as CO-Q developing new, aligned capability that in turn can contribute to better, smarter, better aligned strategical plans and canvasses to ‘reality’ – what is going on around you: Your market, your competitors, your dna.

Multi-agent interaction

In a learning organisation based on a distributed system, we work as ‘multiple agents’ developing CO-Q collaborative intelligence. As a part of a multi-agent network, an agent is not only aligned with the current visions of the organisation employing you – but far more importantly works pro-actively to co-develop the same strategies, evolving the organisation along the way.

This means directors need to let go as close-tie teams using key players tuned in to management objectives effectively and continually assessing objective, process, organisational composition and fit-for-purpose.

Developing the adaptive learning organisation.

This means a business or organisation us able to develop an internal dynamic operatability  – working not the way they want to but working the way they need to, since the collective aspect means the test lies in fit for purpose over and above any persons individual purpose. This is the adaptive organisation actually learning, acting and working as an intelligent organism. The result is faster reaction times, increasing speed and adaptive agility – so agents and teams able to influence their organisation and organisations strategic intelligence with the capability to constantly redefine.

What we end up with is an evolutionary networks motivated by and contributing to central CO-Q drivers. These are the engines moving minds forward by interaction, aligned understanding. In CO-Q, people contribute to each other’s task as well as their own having influence on strategy and direction that is now receptive to the ‘minds in the field’: By linking people to process through CO-Q.

The success of the organisation is of course dependent on the level of understanding and knowledge of how CO-Q can be implemented. Therefore, it is paramount that tools and mindsets are developed that allows the agents, or team members to work systematically within an overall thinking-doing framework. In turn, this enables adaptive fleixble processes that change in accordance to insights and decisions that continuously define ‘the learning plans of action.’ This can only arise by close-tie intelligent team collaboration. But don’t just take my word for it:

IBM look at the same issues from the point of view of developing responsive technology. As a business on the front-end of innovation they see the problem as being one of developing key cornerstones that changes the way organisations work so they themselves are responsive and adaptive to change.

Many companies want to innovate—but not all understand the importance of collaboration to making innovation possible. Many are hobbled by old concepts of collaboration that can slow their success. People in the company may, for example, consider collaboration to be extra work. But to today’s innovative worker, collaboration is what work is all about. In the old way of thinking, employees make themselves valuable through what they know. But in the new way, people make themselves valuable by seeking opportunities to work with others and tapping into the expertise that others possess. (IBM 2008)

The Value Proposition: From IQ to CO-Q

When we boil it down to the simplest ingredients its really quite simple. The value proposition is this:

We may have the connections and may have the skills to develop dynamic interactions. What we don’t have is the understanding, the skills or the tools to implement them. In other words, no amount of know-how or technological investment will make difference without effective collaboration and intelligence sharing. And that’s why CO-Q comes into the picture.

Our message is the development and implementation of smarter and better ways of working is the key to adaptation. To adapt does not to send strategy down to the teams, but to see the entire organisation as a self- evolving hub of people, ideas and interactions where managers, team leaders and personell are equally valid according to the extent they can contribute to the collective development of knowledge and understanding.

In the old way, content is owned and protected. In the new way, content is developed through participation; it is fluid, contextual and leveraged to create opportunities through ongoing collaboration. In the old way, directories of people provide static contact information. In the new way, dynamic profiles reflect what people do, with whom and how well they do it. (IBM 2008)

Agent-to-agent evolutionary close-tie networks: A reversal of traditional management practice

This is a radical and different proposition than the one most of us have been used to and effectively challenges the traditional structures advocated by management. It means understanding and adapting: How we interact and combine to develop ideas, content and action. Smarter ways of working is the doing part and is based on thought – developing ways of thinking, thinking about doing and thinking about how people work best together. As collaboration is implemented and becomes successful, it becomes both more fluid and responsive. And this is where the thinking side of things enters into the equation.

CO-Q teams impart ‘strategic fitness’ to process, organisation and the interactions between people. The more the organisation exercises strategy skills, the more trying out feedback and iterative development is offered by the teams on the evolving strategy, what Kotter describes as ‘a hypercompetitive environment’ (Kotter 2015). IBM look at this from the aspect of transcending normal document based working connecting systems and data. As IBM points out, this too often ends up producing content for its own sake:

The people-focused style, which connects people and ideas, taps people for knowledge and insight in pursuit of an activity in which content is only one part. In the new collaboration, information is made available to a wider group of people who work together openly, quickly and more cost-effectively. Finding and connecting with subject matter experts are critical steps to the success of collaboration. (IBM 2008)

It’s all based on team performance. The more the organization exercises its strategy skills, the more adept it becomes at dealing with a hypercompetitive environment. The network and the hierarchy, functioning as dual operating systems (CA’s generating system), can produce more wealth, better products and services, and a more exciting place to work in an era of exponential change (Kotter 2012).

With new styles of collaboration in place, companies can be positioned for solid business benefits because they can harness the innovative power of shared knowledge. Companies can improve service to customers, partners and other stakeholders because they can not only communicate more readily, but they can also work together to solve common problems and meet common needs. (IBM 2008)

***

Kotter’s 8 Accelerators

CREATE A SENSE OF URGENCY around a SINGLE BIG OPPORTUNITY

COALITION: Build and maintain a guiding coalition

FORMULATE VISION: Formulate a strategic vision and develop change initiatives designed to capitalize on the big opportunity

COMMUNICATE VISION: Communicate the vision and the strategy to create buy-in and attract a growing ‘volunteer army’

REMOVE BARRIERS: Accelerate movement toward the vision and the opportunity by ensuring that the network removes barriers

CELEBRATE: Celebrate visible, significant short-term wins

LEARN FROM EXPERIENCE: Never let up. Keep learning from experience. Don’t declare victory to soon. (Or at all)

INSTITUTIONALIZE: Institutionalize strategic changes in the culture.

References

IBM 2008: The new collaboration: enabling innovation, changing the workplace.’ Online; January 2008. http://www-935.ibm.com/services/us/cio/pdf/new-collaboration-white-paper.pdf

Kotter 2012: Kotter, John: Accelerate – How The Most Innovative Companies Capitalize On Today’s Rapid-Fire Strategic Challenges – And Still Make Their Numbers’ . The Harvard Business Review; November 2012.