When we think about the way work is managed inside an organisation, we might imagine a clear hierarchy, perhaps, with bosses and boards, leaders and teams. There might be a vertical structure where the lines of communication are pre-defined and clear. Communication beyond the organisation might typically be one-way broadcasting, advertising, newsletter updates or pre-arranged face-to-face conversations.
This image, while perhaps comfortingly recognisable, is changing fast in the face of the exponential adoption of social media, online networks, and personal devices. We are seeing changing ‘digital’ behaviours in which anyone with a web-capable device can communicate independently and on a global scale. In response, organisations are rapidly evolving the way they engage with customers. For example, Air NZ, ‘the flying social network’, uses its Airpoints Fairy to build relationships via Twitter. Amazon purchased the GoodReads social network to boost the way readers interact and recommend texts amongst themselves. Even members of the NZ Parliament tweet from Question Time, opening new pathways so anyone can access previously ‘authorised’ information from parliament.
Such social networks create two-way, one-to-many communications enabling responsive engagement with the public in ways that are now an expected part of the way today’s organisations work. Engagement and forming relationships with customers and communities is vital in a time when a more personalised approach is being demanded.
And inside organisations, structures are changing too. Traditional hierarchies are evolving into adaptable heterarchies. Distributed leadership models ensure that individuals throughout organisations have increased agency but also shoulder more responsibility. Teams work as communities of practice. Internal social networks, such as Yammer, are beginning to be used as well as emails.
The value of networks lie in the potential for spreading opportunity and challenge and for joint creation and innovation by enabling the competencies, knowledge and expertise of the group.
David Rogers describes networked organisations as:
In the self-managing schools of New Zealand-Aotearoa, we are beginning to see these ideas emerge in the way schools organise teams, design professional learning, engage with their communities and whānau, and access and contribute to the wider education network.
This shift from a constrained, imposed hierarchy to a fluid, more personalised network is being driven by a range of factors, from technological to social and educational:
Looking across the current educational landscape, examples are emerging of schools, learning centres and educators that model a networked disposition in terms of their internal organisation:
We are also seeing an increasing range of examples of schools and educators forming networks to support their growth:
Changing leadership models
It can be challenging to change prevailing models of leadership, to shift from a power-centric approach to one that acknowledges that all staff have strengths to bring to the organisation, offering real decision-making opportunities, not just delegated ones. Hierarchies can be limiting compared to a truly collaborative, networked structure:
For schools to work as connected networks, leadership needs to foster a culture of trust and which is predisposed towards transparency and openness. To help educators make the most of networks beyond their school, it is helpful to look for ways in which the professional learning models in the school can integrate informal ways of exploring inquiry and collaboration cross-teams.
Changing dispositions and understandings
To make the most of networked learning, modern educators require a digital toolkit of literacies. It is helpful for educators to understand that influence in networks operates through social investment of time and effort, relationships, and recommendations. There are also challenges in the ‘default social’ disposition. Networked organisations privilege socially-adept working behaviours. By being part of quality conversations, research and relationships gain in value and more can be achieved. Such digital confidence also needs to include understanding how to filter information strategically and in ways that are manageable.
Changing perceptions of schools: From islands to archipelago
On a broader level, a further challenge and opportunity is for schools to see themselves as nodes on a wider network rather than isolated islands. Modern, networked schools pursue collaboration, rather than competition, and adopt Tim O’Reilly’smaxim that you should “create more value than you capture”.
Questions to consider
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