Organizational Cohesion

Time is, as ever, money and this challenging economy calls for us all to be more resourceful in pinching pennies. So, how to get as much bang for our buck? How to accelerate effective response in a world in flux? Many want to improve the performance of their organizations but most of these interventions have failed to deliver, proven expensive and failed to bring true transformation.

We have talked for decades about how technology will impact business and drive organizational change. But I think it’s now fair to say that that time of true change is now upon us and that if companies stay traditional, if they cannot become more adaptive, more responsive, more human they will fail. We see these hidebound companies dropping every day. What is the change we need? It seems that we have to change our very being – how we see each other and the world. We have to be able to see events quickly – make sense of them – and act appropriately. I’d argue, that the way we are organized today makes this all but impossible.

I’m not alone in wondering if the sclerosis that is embodied in traditional top-down bureaucracies is their fatal flaw. Here’s my FASTforward Blog colleague Joe McKendrick from early December 2008:

In yesterday’s post, I pondered as to how Enterprise 2.0 and Web 2.0 technologies and methodologies may help pull well-networked companies and well-networked individuals through the headwinds of today’s turbulent economy.

Harvard’s Andrew McAfee is also pondering how Enterprise 2.0 may make a difference, and has just posted a thought-leadership piece on how the struggling US auto companies could theoretically employ E2.0 to help emerge from their current slump.

He assumes, hypothetically, that one of the Big 3 American auto companies was taken over tomorrow by “enlightened and aggressive new leadership whose only goals are to restore the company to operational and financial excellence” — leadership that “believes firmly in the power of IT to help businesses achieve their goals and differentiate themselves in the marketplace.”

The new management is likely to be unfamiliar with the company’s current IT assets, but needs to get back on its feet as soon as possible. McAfee says the answer lies in turning to the collective wisdom of the workforce and partners — in fact, the company is likely awash with knowledge and expertise.

The key is to be able to tap into that collective wisdom. This is where Enterprise 2.0 tools come in:

But how to change this then becomes the next question. How do you overcome the huge resistance to working in this new way? Here’s colleague Jon Husband on Cisco CEO John Chambers talking about how hard it is to make a shift away from control to trust:

Cisco is undoubtedly a lab for E2.0, and Chambers is definitely in the pilot’s seat. His point about collaboration revolves around productivity and speed.

My attention was drawn by a couple of things he said, such as the new ability of the company to pursue 26 top priority projects at the same time instead of just one or two last year; or the fact that Chambers meets more customers now but less often face-to-face and more often virtually, less often one-on-one and more often as a group; or the fact that he had to get rid of 20% of his staff composed of control freaks who didn’t get it.

Chambers believes that communities are the very core of E2.0, and he admits that he had a hard time getting used to it.

Is there a relatively easy way for a traditional organization to adopt a 2.0 view? We believe that there is and that Twitter might be the best “vector” through which to infect your organization. The paradox, though, for those looking to drive organizational change: you have to find a non-directive process – issuing a dictate to just change already doesn’t work.

A great post from the incomparable Euan Semple on how to drive this shift:

The 100% guaranteed easiest way to do Enterprise 2.0?

And then your bright, thoughtful and energetic staff will do it for you. Trouble is they will do it outside your firewall on bulletin boards, instant message exchanges personal blogs and probably on islands in Second Life and you will have lost the ability to understand it, influence it, and integrate it into how you do business.

The second easiest way is to find ways of allowing this to happen inside the firewall which can be as simple as sticking in some low cost or free tools [emphasis, mine] and then making sure your existing organisation can:

The third easiest way is to do the second easiest way and then engage those who would have done the easiest way and get them to help you:

And the hardest way …….

…. you don’t need me to tell you that!
The bit that stands out from Euan’s piece is the advice to employ low cost or free tools. I think that introducing Twitter to a small evangelical group has not proved to be hard. The benefits that accrue come early and are significant – so the meme can spread. Twitter can play a major role in this by improving the overall levels of trust and hence cohesion in your organization.
How does Twitter do this? First of all we have to understand a bit more about “Cohesion”.

The military has known for thousands of years that unit cohesion – the deep trust that can be possible in a group – is the key to effectiveness. When this trust exists most friction goes away – you just know that Joe or Mary will deliver; you just know they will be in the right place at the right time. Those who play team sports know this too. As has been proven time and again, minimal levels of control are required in high trust, high cohesion organizations.

And the reason that trust is low in most organizations is that strangely we really don’t know our colleagues. Sure, we may be colleagues for many years. Or we may sit next to them. Or we may even have been out to meals with them. But the reality is that we very often don’t really know them. And that gap is even greater up and down the hierarchy where we encounter, by design, massive amounts of control. That control is a substitute for trust, ultimately throttling the intelligence and energy of your organization and its people.

What process is missing from most organizations that switches this trust on? How can some organizations have both the control they need to get the job done and the trust that opens up the intelligence and energy of the group?

This kind of trust usually comes from sharing the fullness of our lives with others. In the military, it is not only the work and the fighting together but also the living in close quarters that fosters deep connections. The same holds true for those in a fire brigade who trust each other with their lives or even those in team sports who spend lots of time together. There are processes in place that ensure participants spend time together and get to know each other.

Here is how the Toronto Fire brigade see the power of then process of creating cohesion:

Teamwork is everything. Whether it is sharing routine tasks at the fire station or providing fire fighting services at an emergency scene. Firefighters depend on each other to successfully perform their duties.

As team members, Firefighter live and work together in close quarters throughout a shift. Living at the fire station means that all team members are responsible for station housekeeping….

Firefighting is not a 9-5 job. It is a 24 hours a day, seven days a week public service

Soldiers, firemen, pro athletes all have intensely social professional lives given they spends lots of time together, and even often live with each other. The trust they develop comes from intense experiences to be sure but also from sharing the mundane minutia of life that helps build, over time, a more complete picture of the other. (See The Science Behind How Twitter Works)

This intensity is, surprisingly to those who’ve yet to experience it, what can happen when a group uses or emerges in Twitter. Twitter – “small,” unobtrusive, low cost in time and energy – offers a realistic way of building this trust in groups for at the heart of the Twitter process is this sharing of the minutiae of our lives. How you feel, what you had for breakfast, what you think of toda’s news… all this accretes over time to offer others a true composite of who you really are and what you really care about. THIS is what creates connections and trust and, as a consequence, group cohesion. Twitterers who remain machine-like, who don’t get personal, who obviously are out for something, don’t do well and must either “learn to be human” or resign themselves to obscurity.

So how might one go about digging in to to Twitter?

One good place to start is this guide from Tony Hsieh, the CEO of Zappos, a company getting tons of attention for its 2.0 ways. Says Tony:

I know that I’ve been spending about half an hour every time I try to convince my friends to sign up for Twitter. At first, they think it sounds interesting but aren’t really motivated to sign up. Sometimes it’s been a multi-week long process. But finally they relent and sign up, probably just so they can shut me up. I walk them through the signup process, step by step, and then slowly but surely, they become addicted and their lives are never the same again.

Also worth checking out: the Twitter Zappos page below.  Note that most of the Tweets are from customers or folks just interested in Zappos. By using Twitter well, Zappos is creating a support community that also acts as an unpaid and highly trusted marketing force.


The proof is in the pudding… watch the video below and compare your operational culture with this:


Accept and embrace this about the new reality and not only will your organization be able to adapt more quickly to a rapidly changing world, you’ll also find that world blending, in effect, into the organization. I know of no other tool that has a better chance of changing the traditional into something more human than Twitter.

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