Content-type: text/html ~ Stephen's Web ~ Comments On The Bioteaming Manifesto

Stephen Downes

Knowledge, Learning, Community

Dec 22, 2006

Interesting paper - I don't like the Change This delivery vehicle though (text is always too small, and I can't position it (I always like to read text at the top of the screen, not the bottom).

The metaphor is a bit strained. Why 'bio' teams? I get the analogy, but aside from mentioning it from time to time they do not actually connect what they're saying with the metaphor they're using. And some parts are beyond credulity. "The four action zones are to a bioteam what the four chemical bases (A,T,G and C) are to DNA - their interdependencies and constantly repeating patterns provide the building blocks of the double helix structure common to all living things..." Um, no. The 'action zones' are sets of rules. They do not form helix structures, or any other structures.

Overall: the advice in the paper is generally sound and includes several things I haven't thought of. The whole section on beliefs, for example, is very valuable. Now, not all of the 'beliefs' listed are actually beliefs - some are attitudes, others are behaviours. Nonetheless, they describe an essential mindset.

But: Good beliefs make teams work harder? Not exactly, and not exactly necessary. Wording hard is a matter of motivation, of which the beliefs (etc) constitute partial factors. Also, working harder is not always preferred to working efficiently and effectively. There needs to be a connection drawn between factors and beliefs to effectiveness and efficiency, but this is not done.

Also, like other papers of this type (Siemens's book comes to mind) even as they say things like "everybody's a leader" they're still writing to the manager and describing to the manager how to manage. Eg. why do ghey continue to call them 'teams'? They are still working in, clinging to, the paradigm of groups and leaders while trying to assimilate network behaviour. Eg. "HPT members don;t believe their leader will take all the glory..." Not an issue if there are no leaders per se.

The Factors: 'intelligence' isn't a factor - it's not really a part of the composition of teams (or networks, as I would say). It is a consequence. The second factor, autonomy, is a factor. But where is diversity? I don't see it.

I found rule 1 interesting - "they mostly use one-way broadcast communications..." Where does this come from? Broadcasting information rather than orders makes sense, but setting up a structure based on broadcast messages is a bit less convincing - it sounds like a way to sneak orders back into the picture, albeit implicitly. If your 'team' depends on no-reply all-staff emails, then it is not a network.

Looking out for threats and perceiving opportunities - this is the behaviour of a group, not a network. And this raises an important point underlying the article as a whole - the fostering of thinking on the part of members of the whole as a whole. Basically, what entails in the personification of the whole on the part of members, and then the self-identification with the whole. This creates cohesiveness, but also introduces a set of dysfunctional behaviours - less tolerance for diversity, for example. An attitude of assimilation rather than connection.

Rule 8 - tit-for-tat - is an attempt to explicate an important organizational principle. It is one I have expressed in the based as "exchange of mutual value". The idea that relations between members are not based on coercion but rather negotiated micro-contracts.

Rule 9 is an important principle and deserves much more discussion - the distinction between analysis and planning to get things right vs a process of live controlled experimentation. Other people have described this as 'tolerance for small failures'.

Stephen Downes Stephen Downes, Casselman, Canada

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