Creating an open sphere p2p structure alongside hierarchical institutional structures

Last week, I gave the first ever 2-day seminar on peer to peer and unlocking cooperation in an institutional framework, for the Ark Group in Sydney, and I was very happy on how it went, especially thanks for the brilliant facilitation work of Tim Gartside. His open sphere methodology is a great way to translate and embody peer to peer principles in concrete actions and understandings by participants. There will be a repeat performance of the seminar, but this time with Natalie Pang, in Singapore on April 29 and 30.

Here is a text by Tim, which gives a little more personal detail about his motivation and methods.

Tim Gartside:

I have been working with groups in organisations either from the inside or outside since 1986. My abiding interest has been how to generate the overall most effective contribution from the group. A particular interest has been the theme of “the B team coming good”. In popular culture one can image “The Mighty Ducks”, “Cool Runnings”, “The Dirty Dozen”, amongst others. What is it that can galvanise a ragged group to produce stellar performance? And more particularly, what are the social structures, both formal and informal which will support that performance?

The social structure or architecture is my particular field. When I consider a range of interaction patterns it seems to me that the centre of gravity of many corporations rests in a Bureaucratic or Authoritarian mode, with evidence here and there of Achievest or Collective functioning.

In these simplistic diagrams the model that allows the most open interaction between and amongst participants is the Integrated model, with a focus on peer to peer interaction rather than interaction mediated through a structure of vertical authority. The developments now that are provoking new consideration for corporations are the outbreak on the Internet of many profoundly peer to peer structures eg. the social networking sites (including Linked-In and Facebook), Linux, Wikipedia, You Tube. In these sites there is no vertical power structure mediating the interaction. Rather the interaction is governed by various protocols. If a participant does not follow the protocols his or her standing will diminish.

The challenge for me, then becomes how can one create a peer to peer, horizontal, structure in a corporate setting alongside the formal, vertical structure, in a way that brings vitality (and does not degrade) the formal structure. A vital clue is provided by a German sociologist, Georg Simmel, writing in the 1920’s. “Reciprocal super-subordination comprises a large number of interest spheres in some of which the one part, and, in others, the other part, is super-subordinate. In this fashion, there results an interpenetration, a consistency and, at the same time, a vitality of the relation which can hardly be attained in other sociological forms”. Later in the same passage he says that it is important to separate the two modes, the vertical and horizontal, and not to blend them. [Source: The Sociology of Georg Simmel’ edited by Kurt Wolff, The Free Press, 1950, 288-299].

I have called this horizontal, peer to peer, structure an Open Sphere structure. The sphere or geodesic dome provides an excellent metaphor for a well integrated group.

In the work with clients, we have established temporary Open Sphere structures on several occasions. On each occasion there has been a significant sharing of information, energy and goodwill, just as Simmel predicts. And that release has served to add vitality to the formal structure.”

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