International Society for the Systems Sciences

 


Presenting


 

The Team Syntegrity Model

An Architecture for Organizations of the Future



Markus Schwaninger
Professor of Management

University of St. Gallen, Switzerland

 

July 1997

 




Team Syntegrity is a future-oriented approach to the design of democratic management in the sense of the heterarchical-participative type of organization. It is a holographic model for organizing processes of communication, in particular for the (self-) management of social systems, developed by Stafford Beer1. Based on the structure of polyhedra it is especially suitable for realizing team-oriented structures as well as for supporting processes of planning, knowledge generation and innovation in turbulent environments. In the following the architecture of the model will be illustrated by using the structure of an icosahedron, as an example (see figure 1).

Background




The formation of networks by persons at different locations, who are connected by mutual interests, is a manifestation of the information society and a structural answer to challenges of our times. An infoset is a set of individuals who share a common concern and who are in possession of corresponding information or rather knowledge connected with the subject. The Team Syntegrity Model supplies the structural framework for the synergetic interaction of an infoset that is intended to lead to an integration of multiple topics and perspectives. The term Syntegrity results from a combination of synergy and integration. An infoset of 30 persons can organize itself using the structure of an icosahedron. (For different numbers of people solutions with the help of other polyhedra are possible.) Each member of the infoset is represented by one edge of the icosahedron. Each vertex corresponds to a team; with the icosahedron there are 12; they are marked by different colours. 5 edges lead to each vertex, therefore there are five members to each team (as players). Thus each participant as a player belongs to two different teams, - those connected by the edge that represents him or her. Mrs. Black-Yellow, for instance, belongs to the teams Black and Yellow. At the same time she is acting as a critic to two other teams. This means that each team consists of 5 players and 5 critics.


Figure 1: Icosahedral Structure of the Team Syntegrity Model



Procedure



The process of a syntegration proceeds as follows (simplified representation):
1. Opening: The syntegration stands under a general topic that focuses all mutual efforts and is explicated in an opening question, e. g.: Which form should management training take in future?
2. Generation of the agenda (Problem Jostle): Each participant hands in contributions that seem important to him or her (Statements of Importance). In the following these are discussed and combined (Aggregated Statements of Importance). Then, in a process of successive synthesis and prioritizing, the agenda for the actual work on the general topic or problem is generated (Hexadic Reduction). It is finally worded in 12 topics (Consolidated Statements of Importance).
3. Assignment to groups (Topic Auction): Each member of the infoset decides on the topics to whose processing he or she would prefer to contribute. A corresponding listing of the individual preferences forms the basis for the assignment to the various teams, with the help of an optimization algorithm. One alternative is random assignment to groups.
4. Working on the topic (Outcome Resolve): The individual teams (consisting of 5 players and 5 critics each) discuss their respective topic. Each team meets several times (e. g. in three iterations). The fact that the same problem setting with its different but interconnected aspects is continually processed by the same set of people, who gather in alternating compositions, provably leads to a self-organizing process with a high effect of integration: Via reverberation, the information in the Infoset is shared progressively, over time.2
5. Conclusion: final coordination if necessary in Triplets (corresponding to the triangular faces of the icosahedron), presentation of the results in plenary.

Case Study: A Global Transdisciplinary Research Cooperation

On September 25, 1996 a research project directed by professors Raúl Espejo, University of Humberside, England and Markus Schwaninger, University of St. Gallen, Switzerland, reached its culmination: A festschrift3 for his seventieth birthday was handed over to Stafford Beer, the founder of management cybernetics4 . This commemorative publication is the result of a model-based interaction carried out mainly via electronic media, of 30 cyberneticians from sixteen countries and four continents. The ceremonial act took place at John Moores University, Liverpool which houses the Stafford Beer Collection. The project was supported by a considerable donation from the Stiftung für Systemorientiertes Management (Foundation for System Oriented Management, Chairman: Prof. Hans Ulrich).

The aim of this project was to create a festschrift worthy of the founder of management cybernetics. At the same time it should constitute a substantial contribution to the body of knowledge of cybernetics. The initiators - Espejo and Schwaninger - decided in 1994 to realize a corresponding project. Stafford Beer is not only a professor at several universities in Britain and the United States, the winner of several prizes as well as a president and ex-president of high-ranking scientific societies (so of the Operational Research Society among others). He also is a conceptual architect of new models of organization, including innovative uses of information technology, and as a practitioner was one of the great pioneers in their realization.

In principle, at the core of a festschrift project is the generation of a knowledge product. However, commemorative publications often represent collections of articles that show little integration. Worldwide there is a large number of people who know Beer's works well and probably would be willing to contribute to this festschrift. How was it possible to canalize this high potential into a coherent effort that would lead to a genuine knowledge product? In order to reach the demanding objective the project was aiming for, a new approach was required. The initiators decided to apply Beer's Team Syntegrity Model as a basis for organizing the process of creating the festschrift. That model appeared to be especially suitable for carrying out the ambitious endeavour to work on the complex domain of knowledge embodied in management cybernetics, in a global cooperative research and publication project.

The challenge confronting us was mastered as follows:

1. Winning a circle (,infoset") of experts in cybernetics (among others from the universities of Manchester, Toronto, Valladollid, Dublin, De Los Andes/Bogotá, Mannheim, Humberside, John Moores/Liverpool, City University/London, St. Gallen, Bangor, Nayang Institute of Technology/Singapore).
2. Interaction on the basis of the Team Syntegrity Model, a cybernetic model of organization created by Beer himself (see textbox).
3. Combination of distant and local communication between the persons involved making use of the most advanced technological means.

Up to then the Syntegrity Model had been applied in numerous strategy and organization projects but always merely in workshops, i. e. via local communication. In order to make a genuine process of generating knowledge resulting in an actual product - the festschrift - possible, it was required to plan and control the project in an exceedingly circumspect fashion. To get most out of the project, the first electronic syntegration ever realized was among the planned technological innovations. Another innovation was the endeavour of thirty people writing a book together, mainly via the World Wide Web.


The project proceeded in the following phases:
1. Preparation: Installation of a worldwide web site as a communication platform (we used a server at City University London, which also gave the corresponding technical support).
2. First electronic syntegration: By way of distant interaction the agenda for a local syntegration was generated that was to take place at the end of March, 1996 in Britain. In the course of five months an infoset of more than 40 cyberneticians from four continents and sixteen countries was interacting via electronic means.
At the beginning a multitude of ideas was generated, all the participants handing in multifarious issues viewed from the most different perspectives. Later priorities were set successively. By means of election procedures (via Worldwide Web) and lateral discussions (that were partially also carried out by supplementary means of communication such as telephone, fax, e-mail etc.) the infoset created, in self-organizing fashion, an agenda, namely the twelve topics for the various chapters of the festschrift. In this phase 147 initial statements of importance were transformed, step by step, into twelve consolidated statements of importance. Finally, each member of the infoset could decide to which topics he or she would prefer to contribute, i. e. which of the twelve teams he or she would join as a player.

3. Local syntegration: From 24 to 27 March, 1996 the definitive infoset - 30 cyberneticians from all over the world - met for a three and a half day workshop at Mickleton near Stratford-upon-Avon, England. In an intensive and for all participants fascinating exchange of ideas the twelve chapters of the festschrift were drawn up. The discussion was organized according to the geometry of an icosahedron: Each of the thirty participants was a member of two teams as a player (represented by an edge connecting two corners of the icosahedron), as well as a critic of two further teams. Each team met in three iterations, first of all for a kind of brainstorming, at the second time for a conceptualization and finally at the third time for designing an action plan, i. e. how to proceed in order to produce the respective chapter within the team. All sessions were recorded on videotape. These recordings were then transcribed (in excerpts) by Andreas Krafft and Alfonso Reyes, the assistants of the project coordinators.
4. Second electronic syntegration: Again through distant interaction the twelve chapters were written between March and beginning of August, 1996. For this purpose a further platform with a special groupware (first class) was installed on a server of the University of Bangor. An important input for this phase were the transcripts of the sessions in Mickleton. The consolidation of the chapters and the writing of one chapter reflecting on the process used by the editors took place between middle of June and beginning of August at the University of St. Gallen.
5. Production of the CD-ROM: In the months of August and September, a CD-ROM was produced at AMAZE, a media company in Liverpool, under the direction of Roy Stringer and Dr. Roger Harnden, two multimedia experts. This CD-ROM is a technological and educational masterpiece. It documents more than the results of the project, - twelve chapters on the cybernetics applied to organization and society, plus several videos, including two by Heinz von Foerster and Russell Ackoff. The user can navigate through a multidimensional structure in an interactive manner, to discover the process that led to this end product. Figure 2 gives an overview of the content of the CD-ROM.





Figure 2: Content of the CD-ROM

The title of the festschrift is To Be and Not to Be, that is the System: A Tribute to Stafford Beer (Eds.: Raúl Espejo and Markus Schwaninger). The work shall be published as a CD-ROM by Carl-Auer-Systeme Verlag5 as well as in the form of a book, probably under the title: Cybernetics in Organizations and Society: A Self-Constructing Approach.

The presentation at John Moores University, Liverpool demonstrated that this festschrift constitutes a world innovation. In a global, decentralized, cooperative research and publication project we created more than a work of twelve highly integrated chapters. At the end of the process we realized that a new, most promising method had been found to organize distributed processes for the elaboration of knowledge-intensive products, by a completely new method whose full potential remains to be actualized in the future.




1 For details on the Team Syntegrity Model see: Beer, Stafford: Beyond Dispute. The Invention of Team Syntegrity, Chichester: Wiley, 1994; Espejo, Raúl/Schwaninger, Markus, eds.: To Be and Not to Be, that is the System. A Tribute to Stafford Beer, 1996 (CD-ROM, publication forthcoming).


2 A formal representation of the Outcome Resolve as a Markow-process ascertains, by means of a calculus of eigenvalues, that after three iterations, 90 % of the information in the Infoset will be shared by all its members (Jalali, Assad: Reverberating Networks. Modelling information propagation in syntegration by spectral analysis, in: Beer, Stafford: Beyond Dispute. The Invention of Team Syntegrity, Chichester: Wiley, 1994, 263-280).


3 The term festschrift also stands for commemorative volume.


4 For details, see: Schwaninger, Markus: Stafford Beer, http://www.isss.org/primer/beer.html, February 1996 (under: Homepage of the ISSS-International Society for the Systems Sciences). Furthermore, a special issue of the Journal Kybernetes was dedicated to Stafford Beer, at an earlier stage: Kybernetes, Vol. 22, Number 6, 1993.


5 Address: Carl-Auer-Systeme Verlag, Audiovisuelle Medien, Weberstrasse 2 D-69120 Heidelberg, WWW-address: Germany. www.heidelberger-gruppe.com

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