Network zones

If we zoom out and look at the OPO architecture as a dynamic structure, we can get a better idea of how it represents a dynamic integration of the network and core zones. The core zones are where the value of the company is generated. Core zones are responsible for what we conventionally call “the value proposition” of a company. In creating a conventional company, we must design a business plan around our value proposition. In this analogy, the network zones represent the business model.

In the language of the OPO, the network zones are responsible for the exchange of resources into the organization, from the larger participatory ecology, and the transaction of value added back. It is in this sense that the network zones are like a “living membrane” that is responsible for inside-outside resource flows. Investments are understood as resources flowing in – whether those resources are supplies, information, technology, community support or financial. Resources flowing out are “ex-vestments” which include products and services, payments, and contributions to the common wealth.

When combined with software data programs that track resource flows in both directions, the OPO architecture offers a powerful way to visualize organizational life as part of a larger participatory ecology.

The OPO delineates the network zones into four major classifications:


As illustrated in figure 2, the network zones also indicate phases in adaptive cycles that every organization goes through, and thus represents the key dynamics of change to be expected there. Zones also correlate with the types of change environments that are operating – from chaotic to complex, to direct and open, and thus are suggestive of the set of actions that are key to strategic choices in the particular network zone.

figure 2

Access: Tech-know-logy and Collaboratory

Access refers to that part of the network responsible for making sure the organization has open and easy access to what we call Tech-know-logy, which is a term we invented that refers to all the technology, information, knowledge bases, etc. the organization needs at any given time. An organization also need continuous access to a vibrant Collaboratory – which is our term for the wide ranging networks and relationships an organization needs to develop new potential clients, customers, partners, contractors, suppliers, vendors, and the like.

The kinds of activities that are paramount to the Access sector of the organization are characterized by exploration, seeking novelty, active inquiry, imagining, ideation, and sensing what is emerging. The strategic preferences here are to diversify, disrupt, sense, intuit, learn, seek connect, and relate. Access is the place for change-makers of all kinds, because strong preference for reinvention, a driving force for novelty including emerging markets, emerging identities, and shifting roles are more likely to be successful for the company in this sector of the network. In terms of team participation and self-organization, one of the key skills required in this milieu is the ability to hold paradox and deal with uncertainty.

Adaptation: Peer Review and Applications

Teams in the Adaptation sector are responsible for designing and developing internal adaptive pressures, and for delivering external adaptive pressures into the organization. Their primary performance goal is strategic – making sure the organization continually improves and innovates, responds to both adaptive opportunities as well as challenges, meets and exceeds quality standards as well as legal and regulatory ones. The OPO template subdivides this sector into Peer Review and Applications -broadly construed terms that refer to procedures for hiring and evaluating employees, engaging external peer review programs, finding adaptive fit in markets, applying for promotions, and the like.

These responsibilities require people occupying these sectors to be sensitive, responsive, and reflective. They must have the skills to identify emerging patterns across a broad landscape of potentials – in people, in products, in markets, in culture – before they become obvious. In addition, people in these sectors need to be able to derive processes that create the conditions for the organization’s continual improvement and adaptation. Their default preferences would be to target, innovate and exploit potentials, as well as to respond, sense, and act on pressures to evolve, by iterating cycles of continuous improvement.

Support: Financial and Community

The OPO subdivides the Support sector into Financial and Community. Financial support includes investment and cash flow, as well as budgeting, financial planning and tracking resource flows. Community support refers to human resource development and benefit-support, as well as engagement with the external virtual or physical community which is the larger participatory ecology of the organization.

The primary responsibility of the Support sector is that the organization has the financial and community resources to fully realize its potentials. The key strategic preferences in this sector are acting, analyzing and reiterating. They characteristic goals here are to increase, concentrate, develop, plan, do reproduce, report and repeat. The milieu of this sector can be complicated, but is rarely complex.

Incubation: Playgrounds and Practitioners

Whereas Adaptation is the place of adaptive pressures, Incubation is the place for adaptive  pleasures. The OPO template subdivides this sector into Playgrounds which are intramural programs such as company parties and events, and Practitioners which refers to extramural associations and their programs and events. The strategic purpose of the Incubation sector is to bump into surprise through playful and spontaneous, refreshing and renewing activities. Through intentional design, it makes sure the organization, thought of as a whole, as well as all its participating members engage the time and freedom to play, explore, practice and just “be.”

The milieu of this sector is neither chaotic nor complex, nor simple or complicated. It is merely remains “open to participation.”

Architecture as Strategy

As we move around the network zones, we see that the key performance activities, skills and values and the environment in which they operate, become less chaotic, more orderly and more conservative as focus moves from emergent potentials to tried and true operational tasks. The unknown becomes progressively known, the unpredictable becomes progressively certain, the impossible and improbable become obvious and unavoidable.The eclectic reader may see that the network zones correlate to the phases of the panarchy cycle and the domains of the cynefin framework, essentially encoding strategic choice fields into the organizational architecture.

Continue to read about The role of Management.