Formal v. Informal Relationship Structures

John Hagel III and John Seely Brown have an excellent post which as usual covers a wide range of perspectives and insights. While some of the points are more strategically orientated, operationally, there is some really useful stuff too.

The part that is most relevant in terms of relationships covers the balance between the formal and informal. Put another way, this is the usually large discrepancy between a formal and 'controlled' way of doing things and the more free flowing networks which actually get the job done.

From the post;

Compare a standard company org chart with a network analysis of the day-to-day relationships and interactions in the same company. The contrast is striking. On the one hand, clearly delineated boxes with a few set relationships driven by formal authority; on the other, a bewildering array of rapidly evolving connections. The two representations are so different that one might question whether they in fact are focused on the same organization. Such is the chasm separating two mindsets.

There are a couple of interesting things here. Firstly, the apparent trade-off between the illusion of control and the reality of emergence. Secondly, John and John then go on to talk about control itself and how it differs from a 'propensity' mindset.

  • In a control mindset, the assumption is that we need to own resources and tightly direct them in order to achieve objectives with the minimum amount of risk.
  • A propensity mindset focuses on the intrinsic development paths that characterize all resources and the dynamic relationships across resources that are continually shaping those paths. From this perspective, the best way to reduce risk is to understand these paths and find ways to leverage them.

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