COMPASS MAGAZINE #11
COMPASS MAGAZINE #11

BRAID THE NEW WORLD Boost your organization into the digital era

Today’s world is hyperconnected and constantly evolving. Yet many organizations retain hierarchical models that limit interconnections. Theano Advisors advocates a new approach that uses ‘braids’ to empower teams and individuals through information and data exchange, shared contributions to meaningful purposes and real-time collaboration. 

Driving organizations through cycles of strategic metamorphosis and reinvention, dealing with complexity, intelligently managing operations while helping executives and their organizations to flourish have long been the hallmarks of Michel Zarka’s mission.

Zarka is the CEO and founder of Theano Advisors, a management consultancy headquartered in Paris that provides strategic and operational support to CEOs and directors of large organizations. Over his years of practice, Zarka has found that traditional, hierarchical business models often stunt a company’s growth potential, limiting its ability to be progressive and take advantage of today’s pervasive and game-changing digital opportunities.

To help combat this, Zarka and his colleagues, Isabella Raugel and Elena Kochanovskaya, developed a new approach to transforming businesses that they refer to as “braided organizations,” a concept designed to optimize interaction patterns among people and teams within and beyond an organization’s boundaries. When combined with digital technologies, braids (a term borrowed from Theory of Braids, first described in 1925 by Austrian mathematician Emil Artin) enable the exchange of real-time information, rich discussions and development of innovative solutions, while connecting people’s motivations and interests and their business objectives to purposes in line with a company’s mission. These interwoven interactions among contributors of diverse hierarchical and generational backgrounds unite competencies and talent and give adopters a competitive edge.

NEW THINKING FOR A NEW SYSTEM

“The majority of CEOs we work with are facing significant complexity challenges,” Zarka said. “Although they want their organizations to become more agile and bring solutions to market faster, the classical reaction is an attempt to control complexity by creating more complexity, via additional processes and layers.” In today’s fast-moving, rapidly evolving world, however, these layers and processes reduce reaction times and slow an organization’s metabolism, Zarka said, putting successful organizations at risk of being disrupted by more nimble and faster-moving competitors.

The answer to these challenges, Zarka believes, lies in creating and enabling smarter interconnections between people with the aim of “connecting the unconnected” in ways that unleash new pockets of value. Theano Advisors advocates an operational and cultural shift within companies, which places hierarchical braiding and empowered teams at the heart of the organization’s growth and value-creation engine.

“It’s a shift where the fundamental idea that productivity and value are best reached through a control-and-command system is reversed,” he said. “CEOs often think that when you set targets, the organization will execute accordingly and that the tasks will eliminate all of the ‘clashes.’ But this is false.”

What is needed instead, Zarka said, is an organization with an auto-adaptive system and ways of working that can deal with clashes fast enough, before they become business critical. “It’s not a question of top-down target setting and deployment, but rather connecting people in ways that enable them to collaboratively address opportunities and resolve issues in real time, arbitrating in the best interest of the organization.”

THE BRAIDED SOLUTION

With its unique methodology for transforming traditional companies into braided organizations ready for the new digital era, Theano Advisors aims to revolutionize the way CEOs think about their business, collaboration, idea generation and value-creation ecosystem. The braided organizational approach, Zarka said, allows companies to rebalance key competencies and workflows, in accordance with the “ultimate real-time information.”

“Companies today face a pressure to answer many different questions and challenges, instantaneously,” Zarka said. “The braided approach enables organizations to effectively cope with its ’boundaryless environments and markets’ that are no longer limited by space or time constraints.

“Succeeding in such environments requires an interconnected system of contributions that allows for real-time reactions and inputs from distributed networks of contributors and a new type of leader who has confidence that such networks will provide relevant insights to help make better decisions. Such a braided-organizational system creates more resilient companies where knowledge is distributed and information shared by ‘many-to-many’ players, rather than centralized and retained by few people at the very top.

”This reimagined organizational model, which is more in sync with today’s in-flux market dynamics, will naturally alter how leadership works. Zarka believes that an organization that accepts the ideas of braids also needs to recognize that leadership should be primarily based on influence and peer recognition, not hierarchy."

Leaders need to recognize that, for a given purpose, they are not the leader but one contributor among others working collectively to make the best decisions,” Zarka said. “It’s a dramatic change that may seem difficult to implement, but accepting the braided model doesn’t mean that everybody in the organization brings the same quality of inputs or that individual expertise vanishes. On the contrary, braids boost the existing expertise hidden within the silos of traditional hierarchies and functions – making it more open, accessible and plural, significantly amplifying its value.”

STARTING TO BRAID

If a company believes that adopting braided principles may suit its ambitions, how should a CEO begin the conversion to this new organizational and leadership model?

Zarka suggests reviewing the current level of interactions between people on the inside and outside, exploring in depth the ways the organization is braided both internally and with its external ecosystem. “Ask yourself about the minimum braiding level that would make your company more efficient,” he said. “Are you at the right level?”

Zarka proposes these additional steps to ensure success:
• Design and launch small-scale but meaningful experiences to enable new ways of working.
• Build communities reinforce data sharing, allow for affinity- and purpose-based connections among people.
• Boost these interactions via robust digital tools and platforms to scale up the level of connectivity and enable better visibility into the type of value (solutions, ideas, decisions) being generated and its core sources.
• Use this insight strategically, and systematically curate the braiding across your organization, optimizing the impact of those braids that generate the most powerful value for your company and its ecosystem.

“This metamorphosis into a braided organization will not be achieved in a single day,” Zarka said. “A CEO should not change the entire organization at once. But by introducing the braids and new ways of working through purpose-driven experiences and then expanding progressively, we are convinced that visionary CEOs will chart their organizations’ path to success.” ◆


“THE BRAIDED APPROACH ALLOWS US TO LEVERAGE OUR EXPERTISE, KNOWLEDGE, EXPERIENCE AND INTELLIGENCE FOR THE BENEFIT OF OUR CLIENTS AND CUSTOMERS.” 

MICHEL LANDEL CEO, SODEXO




“AS INFORMATION CAN BE EASILY SHARED BY EVERYONE, THE CAPACITY TO GAIN THE RELEVANT INPUT FROM DIFFERENT HIERARCHICAL LEVELS, FROM THE VERY TOP TO THE VERY OPERATIONAL IN THE FIELD, IS KEY TO ENABLING THE RIGHT, COLLECTIVE VISION.”

THIERRY BOLLORÉ CHIEF COMPETITIVE OFFICER, RENAULT-NISSAN


ENABLING BRAIDS 

After discovering their mutual commitment to enabling more empowered and agile organizations, Dassault Systèmes and Theano Advisors have partnered to help advance the concept of the braided organization.

“Dassault Systèmes’ 3DEXPERIENCE platform really started as an enabler of collaboration among peers,” said Laurent Blanchard, executive vice presidentof global field operations at Dassault Systèmes. “But we didn’t have the capability to offer change management that would allow organizational transformation. Similarly, Theano Advisors, having developed the braided approach, didn’t have a platform to package their concept on. We saw early on that the 3DEXPERIENCE platform fit perfectly with braiding.

”One advantage of the 3DEXPERIENCE platform is its ability to provide a collaborative environment with both social and business aspects.

“In a braided organization, you need to link the social and business spaces,” Blanchard said. “You want to enable creativity by offering a dynamic environment whereby your employeescan easily connect, share ideas and make recommendations. The ability to link this with a formal process on the 3DEXPERIENCE platform is really unique on the market.”

The digital enterprise drives many new ideas in modern business. When seeking to embrace them, however, many CEOs face resistance within their own companies.

“The 3DEXPERIENCE platform offers an insurance that every member of the braid sees the same information, which in turn encourages collaboration and leads to innovation,” Blanchard said. The platform supports management with structured data; subsequently, data can easily be searched, tagged, rebuilt according to context and extracted by braid members.

“Innovation should not be a top-down concept, led by CEOs and management,” Blanchard said. “It should be a bottom-up approach, involving all parts of the organization as well as the consumers. Knowledge and ideas live everywhere, and organizations today must be able to take advantage of them from every direction.

”Braiding gives organizations the agility to change the way they work, and the 3DEXPERIENCE platform enables and provides visibility for efficient operations, even as authority becomes distributed. The combination of the braided approach and the 3DEXPERIENCE platform, Blanchard said, can help to transform the way people, talent and skills are managed.

“It’s not only about a person’s expertise, but their capability to connect with others and contribute,” he said. “This will make people far more accountable for their job, because it’s up to them to go outside their comfort zone and develop themselves by getting in touch with other people. It gives people more responsibility for their own success, which is essentially the direction society is taking.” 

by Sean Dudley Back to top