Simon Terry

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Responsive Organizations take Practice in Networks

A theme of my work and this blog is that large scale transformative change in organizations requires sense making. Employees must be able to make their own personal sense of change and connect it to personal purpose, knowledge and experience. This theme underpins the Value Maturity Model, the focus on leadership as a way to aid sense making and the emphasis on learning and experimentation. Sense making also highlights the importance of practice.

To make Sense, Practice

I am a huge fan of the simplicity of Harold Jarche’s Seek>Sense>Share model of learning in networks. Harold consistently emphasises the connection of practice as a key part of that learning. Mastery only comes from continued practice and refinement.

Henry Mintzberg published a recent post on practice in management education which stresses the power of practice. Inherent in this approach is time for reflection and sense making. Individual and group conversations accelerate the ability to make sense of changes.

The way we make sense is to experiment and reflect. Practice helps us to see the way forward. Like a startup we can run lean experiments with aspects of the large scale change to help us to make sense of new behaviours, new benefits and new challenges. We practice to learn.

Learning is critical when the changes are uncertain, when there is more to emerge as we change a system. Beware of recipes. Increasingly in large scale change like the creation of a responsive organization it is impossible to know the exactly answer when we start. The path forward involves as much adaptation as we expect to see in the end state.

Practice in Communities and Networks

We can accelerate our sense making, our learning and our practice in communities and through network connections. Communities are a place to learn from the experience of others, to gain the benefits of their help in your reflections and to collaborate.

Networks are a place to find likeminded practitioners and the reinforcement of new ideas and examples. Sharing and finding in networks supports ongoing learning at the speed required for adaptation. Networks also keep you open to the changing world.

These communities and networks of practice are accelerants of our personal change. My personal learning has been greatly accelerated by communities like Change Agents Worldwide and connections through many networks of practitioners.

Change follows Practice and Sense

In The Social Life of Information there is a story of how the graphical user interface went from Xerox PARC to Apple. The authors point out that innovation travels on the rails of practice. Apple’s engineers had shared practice and purpose with those at Xerox PARC. They made sense of the innovations and set about solving for the complementary innovations required to maximise the value of the new interface. Sadly, the rest of Xerox lack the shared practice to make sense of the changes.

The idea of a Responsive Organization requires a similar exercise in sense making and complementary innovations. For many managers there is simply no sense yet in change and there are challenges that need to be solved. The advocates of Responsive Organizations need to continue to practice, to share new sense and to learn better ways.

The appeal of Responsive Organizations already spreads along the paths created by communities and networks of practice. The value of those networks is one of the reasons I helped create #Responsivecoffee and its related events. Very few people set out to become a Responsive Organization as such. However as people practice with the various elements of a Responsive Organization they are drawn to make sense of new ways of management and organising work.

The advocates of the Responsive Organization need to leverage practice to help spread the change. Networks and communities of those in organisations who want to practice new ways of working and who can see a way forward will offer opportunities to further expand the practice and draw others in.

To make sense, practice. To turn sense into change, practice in networks. There is still much practice, sense making and connection ahead.


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