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Week 25, 2020

Value Networks: Reporting Lines, Job Roles, and Nested Circles

Photo by Daria Nepriakhina on Unsplash

Each week I share three ideas on the future of work. And this week, those ideas are all about ways to structure and visualize organizations.

Why am I writing about this? I’m rethinking MAQE’s organizational structure. We’re about to hit 70 people which means our current setup is showing a bit of strain. And I’m thinking the usual methods (e.g., hierarchy, matrix, flat) might not be the best fit. Here’s why:

1. Reporting Lines

Traditional org charts focus on what Niels Pflaeging calls the formal hierarchy — the structure of boxes and arrows that denote who reports to whom. But that’s pretty much all they’re good for. If you want to know who’s boss, these charts will tell you. But if you want to know how work actually gets done, you need to consider informal structures such as social relationships and value networks as well. And that’s easier said than done. Because in 99.99% of organizations, those structures are hidden from view.

For more on formal and informal structures, see w112019.

2. Job Roles

To get around this problem, a growing number of organizations are now choosing to do away with (or at least not focus on) their formal hierarchies. Instead, they choose to visualize their respective value networks and all the various job roles that those networks contain. It’s quite the undertaking. Because as I’ve discussed previously (see link below), it’s not uncommon for one person to hold ten or more (informal) roles! But the benefit is clear: by visualizing value networks we can show how work actually gets done.

For more on how to define job roles, see w102020.

3. Nested Circles

Visualizing these networks can be done in a variety of ways. There are no hard rules. But more often than not, they look like a series of nested circles with roles inside (see example below). The methods used to create and nest these circles are beyond the scope of this article, save to say that (1) it's up to each organization to decide what makes sense for them and (2)Sociocracy and Holacracy can provide guidance for anyone who needs a bit of help. And you don’t need to start from scratch either. You’ve got tools at your disposal:

Map your organization with holaspirit, peerdom, huzzah!, or maptio.

This is complicated stuff. But not for the reason you might think. Defining the value network and creating the organizational map is interesting and easy enough. Helping people understand why they might want to move away from formal hierarchies towards value networks… now that’s a different story! Organizational hierarchies are ingrained in our collective psyche. And people will need time to adjust to the idea.

Generic value map created in Holaspirit.

That said, I’m convinced it’s worthwhile. For several reasons, not least because it provides the organization with a map with which people can navigate the organization and understand how it creates value. Says one practitioner: “[It makes] our organizational model tangible…new employees say they are immediately oriented, in contrast to what took them years in their previous organizations!

That’s all for this week.

It’s time to get back to work.



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Andreas Holmer

Andreas Holmer

Designer, reader, writer. Sensemaker. Management thinker. CEO at MAQE — a digital consulting firm in Bangkok, Thailand.