Three Primary Domains to Master for Organizations: Identity, Information, and Relationships


“These days, a different ideal for organizations is surfacing. We want organizations to be adaptive, flexible, self-renewing, resilient, learning, intelligent-attributes found only in living systems. The tension of our times is that we want our organizations to behave as living systems, but we only know how to treat them as machines.”

[Margaret Wheatley, 1996]


They are the three conditions of self-organizing organizations:

(1.) Identity is the sense-making capacity

It starts with intent, the belief that something more is possible as a group, followed by a sense of self to rally around. We never simply “know” the world; we create worlds based on the meaning we invest in the information we choose to notice.

Identity is both what you want to believe is true and what your actions show to be true about yourself; the promises you make and those you keep as a group. A clear and coherent identity creates an enormous advantage. Organizations that act coherently with their core develop a stronger sense of confidence.

When delivering with confidence, firms attract customers, partners, and other types of collaboration.

(2.) Information as the medium

When a system adds meaning to data, it has information. For organizations to thrive, they need to reach a balance between the influx of new, potentially disruptive data, and orderly system in which known data is cataloged and used, for example to measure progress. Stock and flow.

From information as currency (as in the power of information) to information as medium to get things done. One never knows what bit of data will help whom. This means it is critical to provide access to all of it, so that each group can add its point of view.

This point reminds me of Medium — an easy-to-use platform to read / write, create the conditions that encourage great ideas from anywhere, and increase the depth of understanding.  

Only when information belongs to everyone can people organize rapidly and effectively around shifts in customers, competitors, or environments.

(3.) Relationships are the pathways

Relationships activate information. The more access people have to one another, the greater the opportunities in the organization. This is perhaps (still) the biggest stumbling block of organizations.

Just in my direct experience working on the corporate side, and then in agencies (where actually the problem is much worse), the ways in which companies have optimized workflows, cutting off any slack in workloads, simply prevents people from working collaboratively.

This is not a tools problem, it's a mindset issue — agencies often operate under billable hours, which, in the absence of a strong culture of communication and access, turns them into body shops, hiring and allocating “spare parts.”

Workplaces organized so that people get their work done while also maximizing the opportunity to have access to and collaborate with anyone also increase their ability to collaborate with customers. Effectiveness is the result of speed, and no one lone ranger can build momentum without access to capacity and information. 

Relationships under another name are called engagement — we like to talk about them so much, yet we put them off so nonchalantly at work. 

Customers engaged in finding a solution become less insistent on perfection or detailed up-front specifications. Colleagues linked by a work project become more tolerant of one another's diverse lives.


Identity, information, and relationships are three essential ingredients in the future of work. When they are working, they increase the company's sense-making capacity, add meaning to data, and create growth pathways to focus on the work task.


Further Reading: 3 books on leadership, a vision of life as play, and acting on what matters


[hat tip Roberto Greco for the article]


Valeria is an experienced listener. She designs service and product experiences to help businesses rediscover the value of promises and its effect on relationships and culture. She is also frequent speaker at conferences and companies on a variety of topics. Book her to speak here.

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