The mycorrhiza metaphor
1.1 Mycorrhiza 1.2 Informal networks 1.3 Mycorrhizal networks
The mycorrhiza Metaphor is metaphor from biology explaining symbiosis, or evolved mutual interdependency applicable for balancing and entangling the formal and informal aspects of an organisation
A mycorrhiza is a symbiosis between a fungus and a green plant. The plant captures and transmits the energy of the sun to the fungus which reciprocates with water and various nutrients. The mycorrhiza entangles itself in the plant’s root system either internally or externally to the sells and the association may be mutualistic or in some circumstances parasitic.Soil fertility is heavily impacted by mycorrhizae which has a symbiotic relationship with the plant. It’s tendrils spread 200 times as far as the plant roots and also connect different plants providing a better flow of water and nutrients in return for glucose.
The equivalent in an organisation and the informal networks and associations that keep the formal systems working. Their very efficiency often disguises the failure of formal change initiatives as people just get things to work, they muddle through. The metaphor of a mycorrhiza helps to talk about the need to manage the informal networks in an organization. The role of the informal network in an organisation is key and in a healthy organisation it will be a mutualistic symbiotic relationship with the formal structures and processes. In an unhealthy organisation it will still be symbiotic but the symbiosis will be commensalistic in nature. If we use the informal properly then it is the wildflower garden from which variety and formalism can be created. It is the essential low-cost mechanism by which knowledge and information flow in a organisation and the multiple peer to peer threads provide support and substances to employees. A key aspect of this management is a recognition of the essential entanglement of multi-faceted lives that we all live both within, without and through the organisations of which we are a part. Juarrero’s famous designation of a complex system as “like a bramble bush in a thicket” illustrates this well. In modern organisation design managing the informal is an if not more important than managing the formal. It is a messy process and one that also involves managing transitions between the two.
There are a range of techniques here including the long-standing Social network Stimulation as well as work on Trios and Entangled Trios. Informal networks provide support and enact resilience in a way that formal systems can never achieve. Crews are also a useful organisational form that provides better flexibility when coping with uncertainty. A crew is based on roles and training in role-based interaction so it can form quickly using people who do not already know each other
Mycorrhizal networks work to connect the unconnected in places we don’t imagine there are many connections. Mycorrhizal-like networks are self-organizing networks that connect the right people and projects with the right information and resources.The inevitability of homophily, namely the clustering of like with like and the dangers of that in social media and elsewhere are by now well known. There is a need, as well as an opportunity to create connectivity to differences by moving out through two or three degrees of separation. To what degree does the internet provide a similar function to mycorrhizal networks in forest soil? Is the internet symbiotic or parasitic, or capable of perversion to a form of parasitism?. Entangled trios exemplify this but also, in techniques like SNS we try and create a micro-context in which new homophillic groups are created between what would have been highly dissimilar elements – coherent heterogeneity. That means that to the normal divide between status and value-based homophily we can add task/context as an additional category. Interestingly crews provide temporally contextual ‘homophilic’ temporalities in what might otherwise be considered a ‘heterophilic’ context.