Challenge as Trigger for TOP Management

So you want to learn how to weave technology, organizations, and people together into a powerful organization... Then set yourself to a challenge. Suzanne Kirkpatrick (Microsoft) says her epiphany regarding the need to work with all three TOP dimensions at once came during Strong Angel III, an international disaster-response demonstration attended by over 800 practitioners from more than 200 organizations across the public and private sectors, government, NGOs, and academe. [caption id="attachment_1713" align="alignright" width="300" caption="Suzanne Kirkpatrick"]Suzanne Kirkpatrick[/caption] Suzanne’s describes Strong Angel III as: informal demonstration designed as a laboratory for experimenting with cutting-edge techniques and technologies to facilitate improved cooperation and information flow across the civil-military boundary in post-disaster and post-conflict field environments. In order to facilitate creative friction at the interstitial boundaries, the Strong Angel committee chose not to incorporate as a formal organization, in recognition of the fact that the other kinds of organizations participating had constraining policies in place about how to cooperate with one another.
Currently, she is a Program Manager in Microsoft's Distributed Development Strategy group. Suzanne has extensive experience in cross boundary collaboration in politically complex and technologically challenged environments. She spent a year living in Kabul, Afghanistan with the United Nations Development Programme building public-private technology partnerships. In her work with both the United Nations and an earlier position at Cisco Systems, she developed information technology capacity and information sharing systems for people, governments, and organizations in developing countries, programs to support women in technology, and methods to link local communities to national and international development initiatives. Yet Suzanne says it was during Strong Angel III (she was the informatics coordinator) that the need -- demand -- to manage technology, organizations, and people as part of a combined equation became explicit in her thinking. In Strong Angel III, they had all the communications gear, wifi networks, GIS modeling, data encryption, etc. and the most brilliant technical minds -- but it soon became clear that technology alone would not be able to support effective cooperation in response to a real, large-scale disaster. They had formal agreements, memoranda of understanding across the many major and smaller organizations -- but organization alone couldn't do it. They had the social network piece, personal relationships and community building efforts -- but again, that factor by itself couldn't support the need. Suzanne notes that filling the "interesting space in-between" is what brought the teams together to be successful. Her work at Microsoft has reinforced her belief that it's the space in-between that matters (in my words, how the technology, organization, and people dimensions are woven together). In her research and support of the company's distributed development teams, she sees that "each case, each team it's always a reconfirmation... the space in-between, the gaps in the middle of those three things." Where there are gaps, they try to make the links. I asked Suzanne why some people may be better or worse at seeing and managing these gaps. She noted both organizational and individual opportunities. If an organization "sets up a culture that encourages that approach, you might see more of that coming to the surface, being more conscious and intentional about that framework and operating in that framework. A lot of orgs understand the importance of one or two of the three aspects [technology, organization, people], and the other(s) are overlooked." From the individual perspective, she thinks that people "who have had a breadth of personal experience across different kinds of orgs, people, and cultures (versus stayed within software, or stayed in one country)" could be more likely to see the TOP possibilities and weave them together. This breadth of experience in working with complex systems "could expose them to important underlying currents." Currents, weaving, linking: The key to TOP Management is to be intentional (Suzanne's descriptor) about bringing the three dimensions together, at the same time, in a way that supports the need.

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