In The Web of Inclusion, I take a look at organizations that are great at drawing strategic-level ideas from people in the ranks by operating in a web-like and inclusive manner. While the book isn’t focused explicitly on leadership, I’m happy to say that it was hailed in the Wall Street Journal as one of the best books about leadership ever written!
The term “web of inclusion” originally came from The Female Advantage. The women-led organizations I studied in that book were not standard hierarchies led from the top down. They were more circular in structure and were led from the center. I needed a way to describe them, so I called them webs of inclusion. The name got picked up in the media, so I decided that for my next book, I would see how webs of inclusion might operate in organizations in a way that was not tied to gender.
The Web of Inclusion is organized around five case studies. Each shows how the organization in question used a web to solve a specific and pressing business problem. The companies I studied include Intel, the semiconductor maker and Silicon Valley giant; Beth Israel Hospital in Boston; The Miami Herald; Nickelodeon, the children’s television network; and Anixter, a telecom infrastructure supplier outside Chicago. The challenges these organizations used webs to address included redefining the market, dealing with diversity, empowering the front lines, making learning part of the work of every day, and building strategic alliances.
I learned a lot from doing the studies. At Intel, for example, I discovered the importance of honoring non-positional power, power that does not derive from or reflect an individual’s formal position, but is instead based upon relationships and connections, expertise, or personal authority and charisma. Intel is great at acknowledging and harnessing non-positional power, rather than viewing it with suspicion, as happens at so many organizations. Webs form more easily in companies where power does not get stuck because of an over-emphasis on the power of position.
The Miami Herald used a web to make the paper a fairer place. The web evolved from a more traditional task force by redistributing power in the organization and by changing how it worked, so that it began operating by means of inclusion. The web shook up the Herald by publishing raw data from its employee surveys; by including the squeaky wheels at the paper in decision-making; and by loosely defining its task as addressing any area of perceived unfairness, even if that meant jettisoning such formerly sacrosanct practices as reserved parking spaces for senior executives. I was doing my case study at the Herald at the same time the healthcare taskforce had been convened in Washington D.C., and it was fascinating to observe the contrast between the groups. The D.C. taskforce never became a web, and it operated by means of exclusion, with famously disastrous results!
I believe that great companies will all operate as webs of inclusion in the future. Webs allow organizations to draw on the widest possible base of talent, a huge advantage in an economy based on knowledge. They allow resources to flow to where they’re needed. They undermine the tendency to become hierarchical. They put organizations more directly in touch with those they serve, and make partnerships easier to achieve. Perhaps most importantly, they break down the old industrial-era division between the heads of organizations and the hands—those who come up with ideas and those who execute them. In doing so, they return joy, creativity and a firm sense of participation to the work done at every level.