digital team structures – hub and spoke or dandelion?

Dandelion modelI first wrote about the hub and spoke model back in summer 2011. Since then I’ve talked to a lot of people about it.

I’m a raving advocate for the model. The cultural changes needed to realise the benefits of digital are only really possible through an integrated approach driven from a single focal point. This is why I’ve often pondered how this model could work at a global scale for an organisation.

Local autonomy is important. I’ve been one of those ‘HQ people’ working with local offices, and now I am part of a ‘local office’ in a global organisation. So I know how important a certain level of independence is. Without this you can’t adapt to local market or community needs, innovation and motivation is stifled, and you risk not being able to capitalise on local opportunities.

Dandelions might just be the answer I was looking for. Jeremiah Owyang posted about social business models recently and described this model as:

Multiple hub & spoke “Dandelion” notice how each business unit may have semi-autonomy with an over arching tie back to a central group.

Reflecting on this – I recognise this model from my current and past workplaces – it’s nothing new. Yet it’s strange how giving a name to something means you can examine and discuss it more easily. Examining it leaves me agreeing with the points Jeremiah makes and adding a few of my own;

  • too much internal comms = noise; but an internal social network delivers the power of discovery and self-filtering.
  • decentralised cross- team working is critical; but it’s tricky for central hubs to empower and be sufficiently in the loop to add value.
  • focus on the bright spots; understanding the strengths and weaknesses of each hub gives strategic opportunities for spreading learning.
  • apples and pears aren’t the same; a common language and frame of reference (eg terminology) makes it easier to identify and share insights.
  • sharing needs to be incentivised; to motivate teams to share it needs to return local results or at least recognition.
  • people trust people; there’s nothing like face to face to build trust and communication, with video meetings there’s no excuse.

One thought on “digital team structures – hub and spoke or dandelion?

  1. Hi Laila
    Good post (shared by @juliac2 on Twitter). I manage a hub for digital communications in the Foreign Office and much of what you say rings true. It’s about getting a balance between central guidance/control and local autonomy. And it’s about having processes in place that allow you to identify creativity/innovation/excellence anywhere in the network and share that with your organisation as a whole.

    A lot is said about how hub and spoke models enable central teams to manage local teams at arms-length, but we often overlook that in global organisations, the most innovative work often takes place at a very local level where people are dealing with very specific challenges often with limited resources. If systems aren’t in place to “focus on the bright spots” and exploit them globally, the organisation misses out enormously.

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