Elearning! Magazine

DEC 2016 - JAN 2017

Elearning! Magazine: Building Smarter Companies via Learning & Workplace Technologies.

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Elearning! December 2016 / January 2017 13 M any of you have never heard of fractal organizations. I hadn't until I talked to a col- league working on the Hyperloop project, which was described as a "fractal organi- zation." e fractal organization may be your future collaboration ecosystem. Most organizations today are top-down command-and-control hierarchies that have to grow through acquisition rather than expanding from within. Oracle is a great example of this (having just recently acquired NetSuite). In nature, mathematical constants are both random and scalable. Look at the leaves of a fern, or the organizational patterns on some sea- shells. Even vegetables like cauliflower and broccoli. Fractals are oen thought to be infinitely complex, because, at all levels of magnification, the pattern is the same. With about 100 years under our belts around command-and-control hierarchies, we know that they might work well for the Army but are not agile or stable enough to work well in today's chaotic busi- ness environment. On top of that, they tend to create "silos" and foster miscommunication, and in es- sence are not great for collaboration no matter how good the technology. Hierarchical organizations create harmful stress and internal competition, because there are only so many spots at the top of the organization. is causes the members to hoard information. I witnessed this directly in the big five consulting firms when I did research on them around collaboration in their organizations. e stress can cause absenteeism and employee turnover, and creative individuals got tired of corporate politics and found more creative environments. FRACTAL SYSTEM CHARACTERISTICS Author Janna Raye identifies the properties of the fractal system: 1 Emergence: Agents in the system interact in random ways. Interaction patterns emerge from these behaviors that affect the agents in the system as well as the system itself. A good example of this is a termite hill. 2 Co-evolution: Systems are in their own environment, as well as being a part of another, larger envi- ronment. As the larger environment changes, the system does also, but because it is part of the larg- er environment, it also changes the larger environment. For example, think of a person as a system in a larger system (environment) called a business. As a person changes his or her behavior, it also changes the behavior of the business, showing a co-evolution of these systems. 3 Sub-optimal: Fractal systems do not have to be perfect to thrive in their environment, and only have to be slightly better than their competitors. Putting additional energy into making the system better tends to be wasted energy, as these systems tend to trade off increased efficiency for greater ef- fectiveness. 4 Requisite Variety: e greater the variety in the system, the stronger it is. at is why diversity in our organizations is so important — not just of races, but of thought, approaches to problems, at- titudes, etc. Fractal systems have lots of ambiguity and contradictions, but rather than seeing these as "bad," they are seen as a way to create new possibilities to adapt to a changing environment. Democ- racy is a good example of this. 5 Shared Purpose: Like ants, honeybees, geese or schools of fish, all of these organizations have shared purpose and shared values among all their members. ese create pattern integrity, and oen high levels of participation in ideas and solutions for continuous improvement, which helps with decision-making at functional levels. Leadership is universal, which enables the competition energy to be directed outward instead of inward. 6 Information Sharing: Hierarchical organizational structures cause information silos. In a fractal organization, all members share information iteratively and make decisions collectively in response to constantly changing conditions. Is The Fractal Organization Your Next Collaborative Ecosystem? Business of Learning BY DAVID COLEMAN David Coleman, Managing Director of Collaborative Strategies Inc. (CSI)

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