How do you organise people in the future work environment?

Success in navigating the future work environment, with its emphasis on dynamic change, interconnectedness and technological disruption, requires fluid and robust ways of organising people.

Thoughts from the fourth video in the Future of Work series: Working like a network
[Reading time: 4mins]


Traditionally, organisations thought it best to have control over the way people work. By breaking the working process into components and assigning people to these (and only these components) then effectiveness would be generated through a repetition of action. People were monitored and managed with little effort, efficiency could be easily measured and reported. This industrial mode of organising people is counterproductive to producing the innovation required in a future information-driven economy.

This industrial ‘compartmentalising’ of work activity is very unnatural and serves to place a barrier between the way people are and the way they work. Humans have been self organising for a very long time and the more artificial you try and make that process, the less efficient and productive it will be.


Humans are inherently social. It is that instinctual synergy of working together to achieve some purpose or goal that has contributed to our success as a species. 

We live in networks. Whether it is family, friends, sport or craft, it is not hard to see examples of how people link up to achieve their goals without the need for a formalised mandated system. Information exchange sits at the heart of this approach.

Networks of people exchange information in a fluid manner. This fluidity helps everyone and allows the network to become more responsive over time. Information technology has extended this ability to exchange and share information. Now more than ever we don’t need to know everything, we can rely on the network, the people (or system) we do know, for those things we don’t know.

Adam Pisoni, co-founder of Yammer, highlights a peculiarity of traditional workplace culture when he notes that there is still ‘weird baggage’ around asking for help, admitting lack of knowledge or even sharing what we are doing. In our non-working lives if we don’t know something or need help, we ask. The video uses the example of someone moving house and asking for help over social media and having freinds gathering together to help out. We rely on our networks to come through, with an expectation of a solution rather than a judgement. 

When used effectively social media makes it easier to organise around a purpose, to discover new things and to share that knowledge with others. The future work environment needs to take advantage of this, harness the fluid exchange of value, of the personal resource sharing that occurs naturally in our social networks.


Value creation needs to shift from the individual to the collective. As work becomes more specialised, as the business environment becomes more information abundant, the need to rely on other people’s competencies becomes indispensable. Companies shouldn’t just rely on their internal networks either. Think beyond the walls, look outside the organisation where networks can extend to stakeholders, suppliers, contractors and customers. Harness these networks to capture a greater range of ideas and insights and use them to improve and evolve products and services.

A good example of working like a network is when teams form around a on-going projects. Where a collection of talent and ability bands and disbands in order to solve the next particular need, much like the ‘Hollywood model’ of filmmaking.

Around the creative project (movie) a company forms, it hires a collection of experienced and talented people to form a team and create a product. When complete, the company dissolves, teams disband and individuals reform later to work on other projects. The contingent nature of these networks expands individual experience. Over time, through working collectively but not exclusively, individuals becomes more competent and the talent pool expands for companies to hire from in the future. 


What type of skills do people need to work as a network? 

It turns out that good teams are powered by what are commonly seen as soft skills: empathy, compassion and trust. One way to improve these skills is through the practice of mindfulness.
Mindfulness helps to cultivate compassion and empathy. Compassion helps builds resilience in teams because it fosters a supportive nature: when one team member is down, others are there to rise up to help. Our ability to attract people to our cause, for them to see the potential in our idea requires also requires a level of empathy with each other.

But are these skills a ‘must have’, or a ‘nice to have’? Do they affect the bottom line?

“All of the models we know of in terms of evolutionary models of give and take suggest that groups that are more compassionate and more trusting, over time, have the best outcomes.” - Professor David Desteno from Northeastern University


In the future, with an increasingly interconnected business environment, organisations will need to leverage information flows to enhance decision making. Working like a network means bringing employees, customers and partners together in order to gain insights and generate value both internally and externally. This will require a resilient and cohesive team with a high empathy factor.

Working like a network means relying on others. Being able to work with, bounce off and inspire colleagues to achieve a common purpose. This requires leaders who are ready to invest in talent, who can take an adaptive leadership approach in creating an open culture of trust. 
The next video in the series explores this idea of Leadership in Transition.