Groupoid organization structure

  • The term

    • When I was studying math many years ago, I came across the term Groupoid, which in Linear Algebra means a set of things, with a relation connecting each 2 things with a 3rd one. I then had the idea that this mathematical structure could also be applied to organizations, to yield a group of people without a leader that act together as one
  • The purpose

    • There are many human enterprises, much bigger than a single person can tackle, for which organizations are formed. The problem is that in order for a group of people to work as one in achieving the big enterprise, there needs to be a way to:
      • Set the path for the group
      • Make decisions on actions
      • Cultivate shared values & culture in the group
      • Guide, mentor & monitor new members

      & to do all that, organizations are usually structured as an hierarchy

      • But an hierarchy results in having people at the top, that resemble lions in the savana – fully realizing their potential due to their degree of freedom – & people at the bottom that resemble lions in the zoo – taking orders & executing them without putting their full heart & brain to make the enterprise successful (see PG’s article)

      What if we could have an organization structure that isn’t hierarchical & yet meets the requirements for having a group of people working as one to achieve some big enterprise?

  • The groupoid structure

    • Parents
      • For each member in the group there are 2 other members called “parents”Their goal is to represent the group to the member by:
        • cultivating in him the group values & culture
        • guiding & mentoring him so that he’ll succeed in his work
        • setting the path for him & monitoring his progress

        When every new member joins the organization, 2 existing members that don’t have a “child” (or have just 1-2) will volunteer to parent the new member

    • Path
      • The group will always have a metro map of its path:
        • large stations for goals
        • small stations for sub-goals needed in order to reach the large stations
      • For every station there will may be sub-maps for the path to get to those stations
      • Each person may have his own map showing his own path
        • Parents will work with their child on his map
      • A tool such as “Ekkli” can be used to facilitate that
    • Dreamer
      • At least one member of the group should volunteer to be the dreamer – the person coming up with the vision for where the group is going:
        • What should be the goals
        • How exactly should they be like

        The dreamer needs to

        • Write blog posts describing the vision & goals
        • Have periodic meetings where the blog posts, vision & goals are discussed
    • Decisions
      • Whenever there are more than one option to do something & a decision needs to be made, the people involved will work together on devising:
        • description of the motivation & goal
        • map of the underlying assumptions
        • map of the options
        • experiments that can validate which option is best for reaching the goal

        An experiment should then be selected, & based on its result, the decision will be made

    • Progress & process
      • The group needs to make progress in its path toward its goals, & needs to learn along the way from reality whether its path is correctEvery week a new station should be reached, that involves an experiment that:
        • gets the group closer to its ultimate goalsinteracts with the world in order to validate or refute some hypothesis, & help the group learn whether it’s on the right path
    • Communications
      • A constant communication channel is required between the group members in order to ensure as much direct interaction between the members as possibleThe metro maps should be shared & collaborated on all the time, to ensure full visibility on the path of the group & each sub-group or individual within it
    • Values
      • To make the group successful, psychological safety is required, which basically means that people should have personal connection with each other & be nice to each other at all timeNo one should be afraid to say what he thinksThe group should collaborate on coming up on the best solutions for problems, & fight over which solution to useEmpirical experiments should be used to make decisions, instead of arguments & discussions
  • Experiment

    • I am just starting to build a group for an open-source project I’m starting (Web-Wide-Matrix) & going to try use the Groupoid structure for managing the group

Blood vessels inspired mechanism for driving social interaction across the enterprise & accelerating change

A. The business problem
Large organizations don’t work as one body. This is problematic, because of numerous reasons. To name just a few common ones:

  • The agenda, priorities, focus & policies of higher management may not be known or implemented by the lower level units & employees, leading to garbage factories, missed targets & activities not aligned with company policies & agenda
  • Adapting to changing business environment is slow in large organizations, because of the difficulty in changing both processes and value streams, as well as the mindset & knowledge of the people running them
  • Problems and threats, or on the other hand innovative ideas and opportunities are not handled because they’re usually not propagated from the lower level units to the executive level
  • A need for activities in one unit, with not enough resources, can’t use free resources in another unit, as well as existing know-how or goods already achieved in other units

B. An analogy: blood vessels
Blood is the source of life to all organs and cells in an organism’s body. It supplies all cells with the inputs required & returns their outputs. It carries commands sent from the brain to organs, via hormones, as well as the necessary chemicals & food the body tissues require. It also spreads solutions for disease agents across the body.
In order to reach every cell, in all organs of the body, the blood vessels are organized in an hierarchical structure, starting from the heart & lungs, and spreading downstream till every cell, & back to the lungs & heart.
Blood flows in frequent cycles, circulating the means of life continuously across the body. It interfaces with the cells via special membrane controlling the flow of materials in & out of cells.

A business enterprise is a large multi-cell organism, that uses knowledge to transform supplies into goods, in a complex value stream. What ties the multiple humans working in an enterprise into a large super-organism, are the communications between them, that coordinate the processes comprising the value stream to drive the enterprise to survive & grow in a dynamic market environment.
However, we believe that these vital human communications are based on paradigms that were established & formed in the pre-computer-mediated era, & for sure before the new social interactions paradigms of the Web 2.0.
We suggest a simple mechanism, inspired by the architecture of blood vessels, for making the communications inside the company flow from the top management to all employees, and also across the entire organizations, in order to help the enterprise work as one body.
C. Social media capabilities
We propose new social interaction “vessels”, flowing from the CEO, through the organization structure, to every employee, and also aggregating the responses from the employees all the way back to the CEO. The basic component of social interactions is a simple short text (the kind passed in services such as Twitter, normally limited to the size of Short Text Messages), along with simple discussion semantics such as “in-reply-to”, “for”, “re” prefixes. It’s highly important that the input from employees will be in this open-ended form, & not forced into any structured schema form, in order to promote the discovery of insights not known in advance, and the emergence of bottom-up new usages of the system. The text can contain marked tags, that characterizes its content, either given by the user, or automatically marked by the system. The system will query users every day for status messages, that may contain such information as their:

  • priorities & focus
  • risks, undesired effects & problems
  • achievements, opportunities & value drivers
  • work status, load & health
  • requests & questions

Querying can be done in any communication channel used by employees (IM, SMS & Email, &c).
Every day, each employee will also receive a collection of messages from the hierarchy path above it, from the CEO, to its direct supervisors.
Using the tags, messages can be passed between users not in an hierarchical path, just on the basis of similar tags. Tags may also be collected in user’s profiles, so that a user who once wrote a message containing a certain tag, will receive future messages with that tag by other users.
Every manager will receive daily a collection of messages from the hierarchy path beneath it. Aggregation, clustering & classification can be done on the responses, to make the results arriving upwards summarized. Visualization methods can be used for presenting a GUI that enables both topsight view of the aggregated results, and ability to explore area of interest.
Messages may be marked with an importance indicator. The higher the importance a message is ranked, the more exposure it will have across the enterprise.
Users will also be able to vote on other users messages, & increase their rank & exposure.

An important use case is with risk management. A user may enter a message describing a risk it wants to put to discussion, and rank it with high importance. The message will be exposed to many other employees across the enterprise, that are related to the tags in the message. Their responses will form a multiple stake-holders discussion, which is the best known way to prepare & address risks.

When considering the extended enterprise, certain units & employees interact with external people (suppliers, partners, customers &c). The flow of social interaction can flow through them to the external people, & back to the CEO. Similarly, the chain can start from above the CEO, e.g., main share holders, allowing them to both interact with, & learn on the overall, current status of the company.

The frequency cycle of this process should be as high as possible, such as 1-2 days, but can also be once or twice a week.

D. The utility of solving the business problem social media capabilities
Unlike the common communications practice in today’s common enterprises, in which the the frequency of communications between the top executives and the employees of the lower level units is limited to 1-4 times per year, and usually also limited to unidirectional communications, the suggested capabilities can foster bidirectional communications on a daily basis, flowing from top management to all employees, and also between employees across the enterprise. This is very likely to address the common reasons given above why enterprises don’t work as one body:

  • The agenda, priorities, focus & policies of higher management will be known & implemented by the lower level units & employees, leading to the elimination of garbage factories, met targets & aligning all activities with the company policies & agenda
  • The frequent circulation of knowledge on changing business environment, and the way the company adapts to them, can create positive feedback loops, that incrementally change & adapt processes and value streams, as well as the mindset & knowledge of the people running them, to the changes in the business environment. Using today’s practices such adaptations can take years, but may be reduced to only weeks using the suggested capabilities.
  • Problems and threats, or, on the other hand, innovative ideas and opportunities will be properly propagated from the lower level units to the executive level, which will enable their effective handling & value extraction
  • A need for activities in one unit, with not enough resources, will be communicated to other units with free resources, or relevant existing know-how or goods already achieved, which will enable collaboration, higher resource efficiency & considerable time saving.

The main benefit for the end-users will arrive from the much stronger bonding & involvement with the entire organization, that can make employees feel more motivated and appreciated. Other obvious benefits are greater responsiveness from their management, & stronger collaboration with other employees across the enterprise.

E. The information that will be collected and how it will be useful for the enterprise
The communications that will circulate in the social vessels may contain valuable information, of many kinds:

  • Risks & threats that may be handled immediately after they are discovered, instead of after they cause their damage
  • Opportunities, value-drivers and innovative ideas that will arrive to the executives that can understand their value & decide on their implementation
  • Trends that may point out problems, and emerging changes, that can be handled before they are reaching a critical mass or serious effect
  • Insights on external factors outside the company, that can arrive even from low-level employees, and hold important strategic opportunities or threats

Once the collected information reaches a sustainable size, it can be applied to analytics that can provide both macro insights on the status & health of the entire organization, and well as micro insights on bottle-necks and inefficiencies that can be removed to effect bottom-line profits. For example:

  • Analyzing negative sentiment in messages, based on Natural Language Processing, can indicate trends in cultural health problems, in certain area of the company or across the organization
  • Aggregated messages tagged with over-load, at certain units or type of resources, may indicate a bottle-neck that delays other units & processes

F. Ensuring privacy and security of information gathered
While the querying interface of the system to employees are common media channels, such as SMS, IM & Email, the outputs of the system (collection of message from the hierarchy above, and aggregated responses from the hierarchy below) are presented in a Web application, that can be protected by any standard of security, for both authentication protection and authorization. Messages can also be marked with security level, to make them available only to employees with access to this level. Any other organization policy, taking into account organization structure or roles, can be applied to determine authorization to view messages.

According to Barry Schwartz

the secret to happiness is low expectations (see TED lecture on the Paradox of Choice).

management wisdon also speaks on the Satiscficer (vs Optimizer) approach of setting a target level of requirements that meets the needs, but doesn’t strive for optimum. after reaching it, you can make it higher.

in GTD too, you don’t work on fulfilling a full project at once, but rather always focusing on the next physical action.

in general all is evaluated according to expectations. which of course means you can always improve your evaluation, by lowering the expectations. for example, this is the best way to excel in work place.

so, I’m setting here my low expectations for the last quarter of 2007, just starting. and will try to meet them. I’ll let you know whether I strived to reach my goals just the same, but this time had some fun & satisfaction while doing it.

Personal life expectations for Q4-2007:

  1. not be fired from day-job
  2. not get divorced
  3. not file for bankruptcy
  4. play 5 minutes per week with my child
  5. visit my family once
  6. do 1 activist act against the israeli occupation
  7. get feedback from 1 corporate executive prospect on my Value-Creation open-source product
  8. have 1 unit-test of my autonomic computing open-source framework pass
  9. work out once every week
  10. write 1 blog post per month