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Book: Web of Inclusion

In the Web of Inclusion, author Sally Helgesen offers a well-documented presentation of a radical way to reconfigure organizational architecture, one that profoundly impacts business culture. Helgesen’s book is important for any leader initiating a culture change.

While the book is about structure, it is also about how structure expands and facilitates the process of communication and relating. Helgesen devotes a chapter each to five companies that she identified as exhibiting “webs of inclusion”. These dynamic examples illustrate how nothing is cut and dry within the complexity of our daily challenges. And she shows how structure needs to reflect the changes people and organizations must make.

The “web” model (yes, just like the spider), as she describes it, is about deriving power and authority via accessibility to information. That access is gained by fostering and strengthening relational connections throughout the company. The leader in such a configuration places his or her self at the center of the web and builds relationships outward.

From the center, he or she has access to the information and opportunities that “shape the information as it evolves” as well as the positioning to foster relational connections between others holding diverse skills, knowledge and authority. In this way, the knowledge and skills base of the company is continually augmented and renewed by new perspectives. This structure differs dramatically from the hierarchical one where information and the leader are held at the top away from most employees.

Helgesen describes the web structure as having a definite shape but one which is also malleable and responsive to the constant flow of information about what is needed next — by anyone — customers, vendors, employees, shareholders or the market itself. While there can be definite departments, people come together and disperse across departmental lines over time as needed. Barriers between departments and ranks and even between internal and external customers are continually broken down. An hourly worker may be deemed as–or more–“powerful” than an executive in any given situation if he or she has access to information that is needed via his or her relationships.

We are presently engaged in ‘nothing less than the search for new sources of order in our world.

says Helgesen quoting Margaret Wheatley’s Leadership and the New Science. And that is exactly what Helgesen offers us in this book.

(Doubleday, 1995; hardcover: 294 pages; list price: $24.95)

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