Developing PSL into a Network Organization


David M. Boje


November 20, 2000


Executive Summary


This is a position paper. It reviews the new approaches to leadership and organizing. It compares the new network model of organizing to the bureaucratic one. And, it looks at the ability of PSL to move from the lone buffalo/herd model of leadership to the “flight of the geese” model, where employees learn to lead. To learn to lead in a network organization, PSL must deal with massive resistance to change. This resistance comes from being founded in the WWII command and control (buffalo herd) era. The problem with the old paradigm is that with new technologies, globalization, and the need to get proposal and grants out in a more timely fashion, buffalo are too slow.  The new paradigm called “intellectual capitalism” focuses on training and skilling people at PSL to effectively staff and operate the more sophisticate (than bureaucracy), networking model. This requires a collaborative networking with the Business College, so that PSL employees can develop a deep foundation of knowledge and skill in the new business paradigm called “intellectual capitalism.”  In this approach relation marketing replaces product marketing, network organization replace bureaucracy, and leadership is something everyone does as they learn to take ownership of the process and how to adapt to shifting market demands.





            Physical Science Lab (PSL) is evolving from bureaucracy to network organization but has the problem of now knowing how to operate the more sophisticated approach. PSL was founded in the post-WWII era when command and control leadership and bureaucratic organization matched the military model of its subcontract, university, and government relationships.  The people who grew with PSL and come to work with PSL are not sufficiently skilled in the network approach. They lack awareness of how their daily patterns of networking to suppliers, customers, government, university, and each other affect the overall performance of PSL. Secondly, as PSL has begun to experience the transformation from bureaucracy to network, and PSL managers and employees resist the process of change.


            PSL has been an interorganizational network for at least the past decade (and perhaps always), a coalition of government, university, WSMR, business units, and other organizations. The technology has changed particularly the use of computers and Internet (email and simulation) to increase the amount, complexity, and timeliness of information. Globalization has moved our thinking from local to worldwide system thinking. There is more mobility, less attachment of people forever to the same organization, and goods and services flow more rapidly about the globe.  Instead of face-to-face meetings, we have virtual meetings. Instead of single, repetitive, specialized tasks – we are multi-tasking networked in many projects happening simultaneously.


            Flight of the Buffalo – Belasco and Stayer (1993) in the national bestseller, Flight of the Buffalo, make the point that while we have moved away from the time when command and control leadership was the appropriate way to organize, many organizations are stuck in to old “buffalo” leadership paradigm that worked well in an era of “managerial capitalism.”  In the old managerial capitalism, management was about physical objects. In the old paradigm, the leader’s job was to plan, organize, command, coordinate, and control physical objects; people were cogs in the machine or buffalo in a herd. “Buffalo are absolutely loyal followers of one leader… they stand around an wait for the leader to show them what to do” (1993” 17). “That’s why the early settlers could decimate the buffalo herds so easily by killing the leader buffalo” (p. 17). PSL is getting slaughtered in the marketplace, unable to respond quickly enough to changes in customer demands, grant application requirements and new technology. The flight of the buffalo, comes from the observation of a flock of geese who change leadership frequently, with different geese taking the lead, changing roles whenever necessary, alternating as a leader, a follower, or a scout (adapted from p. 18). In the new paradigm it is knowledge or intellectual capital that counts, not physical objects as in the managerial capitalism paradigm.  The new paradigm is called “intellectual capitalism.”


The problem is that the mental mindset of PSL is the bureaucratic buffalo while the reality of its relationship is a network of geese in flight. 


            The bureaucratic (managerial capitalism) mindset views organizing from a hierarchical principle. In the bureaucratic mind set a centralized source of power fashions vision, mission, goals, plans, and action plans.  The Network mindset applies a different principle, that of a self-organizing system rooted in “intellectual capitalism.” In a network mindset, each person is a leader responsible for orienting all network activity to a richly dynamic context of information and intellect. Belasco and Stayer (1993: 19) offer for intellectual capitalism leadership principles.


1.      Leaders transfer ownership for work to those who execute the work.

2.      Leaders create the environment for ownership where each person wants to be responsible.

3.      Leaders coach the development of personal capabilities.

4.      Leaders learn fast themselves and encourage others also to learn quickly.


            There has been a dramatic shift in the 21st century context of PSL; it is more complex, ambiguous and problems and solutions are more about intellectual than physical skills. A network form of collaborative effort is called for, but PSL managers and employees are not trained in network forms of collaboration that understands and values intellectual capitalism.


            If PSL is now in a context that makes a network of intelligent minds more efficient and effective than a bureaucratic, command and control, buffalo mindset, why is there so much resistance to change?


            Resistance to Change  - It does not matter that the network form of leading and organizing fits the current needs of the marketplace, globalization, and information technologies.  People just resist what they know will be a different way of being. The mind of PSL managers and employees has long been conditions to battle for control and any quest for change surfaces fear and anxiety, something to resist, at all costs, even if it is better. At the same time, unless managers and employees of PSL immerse themselves in the processes of change, PSL will stay, as it has always been, a command and control bureaucracy unable to adapt to a changing world. PSL needs to trust this process of change, or it will become as all the rest: partial, unfinished, abandoned, unfulfilled.


            Networking is a process that requires that all employees develop awareness.  And this means that everyone begins to understand, observe, and touch the processes they are apart of.  Network development focuses energy, awareness, and consciousness on processes, on the relationships between customers, business units, suppliers, university, and government.  Network development is a conscious examination of those processes, the connectedness of our multiple relationships. To touch the process requires an awakening in three areas:


  1. Attention – PSL can learn to pay attention to processes and relationships.  This awareness awakens the meaning of each individual’s actions in the entire network and web of relationships.  Attention requires we become aware of the practices we have grown to take for granted.
  2. Ownership – PSL employees are detached from owning the process. This is made easy by leaders who exercise command and control or buffalo leadership.  People need to identify, care for, and cultivate processes. That means ownership of the process rather than blaming everyone else.
  3. Intention – PSL can take its cues from its web of relationship, a network that connects everyone in PSL to the external environment.  As awareness and ownership takes place, people learn to create a space for intention. With intention we look at how to overcome limitations and how we are complicity in the network.  My intention is part of the network of relationships that presents things as they are.  I am responsible for my intentions.



Attention, ownership, and intention are basic ingredients of network process awareness.  That awareness is more acute in loose as opposed to tight networks.


            Networks can be loosely or tightly coupled. The more tightly coupled the relationships into vertical hierarchies and horizontal divisions of labor, the higher the stability, but the slower it adapts to changing patterns in a dynamic context. Tightly coupled networks have attention directed from the center to the periphery, the ownership is at the top, and the intention is with the leader, who receives all the blame from all those who are without intention. Anxiety fears the loss of central control. People are afraid to follow a cue that will lead to a change in the pattern of stable relationships. Cues are ignored because the conditioning is to fear the loss of one’s position in the stable structure. People try to hold on even in the face of evidence that holding on is destructive to survival. Tight networks continue to be rigidly connected webs because people have a genuine anxiety about changing stable patterns. Anxiety takes the feeling of stability and reduces it to a fear of all change. ‘

Networks that are more loosely coupled allow for horizontal forms of organizing, self-organizing teams, cross-team, and more depth of leadership throughout the network. The anxiety here is that stability will rob us of the ability to change fast enough to cope with a new situation. In a loosely coupled network, the processes touch everyone, and you cannot blame someone else if the relationships fail to react to cues in the environment. The mindset here assumes that the only thing permanent is change and impermanence.  Stability and permanence is an illusion (the myth of the stable state says Schon). Attention is distributed, everyone takes ownership of the processes, and all are intent on change that raises response and effectiveness levels. In a tightly coupled network, the leader is responsible for planning, initiating, and organizing network activities. In a loosely coupled network, members plan, initiate, and manage network activities (Chisholm, 1998: 7).


            Networks have Three Basic Socio-Ecological Functions – According to Chisholm (1999: 7), building on the work of Trist (1983, 1985) networks have three socioecological functions.

1.      Regulation – Maintaining orientation of the network to the shared vision and purpose; assuring development/maintenance of network values and appropriate ways of organizing activities.

2.      Appreciation – Developing a shared understanding of changes to the network vision and purpose required to incorporate issues/trends that emerge over time.

3.      Development Support – Providing professional organizational development resources required to develop, maintain, and manage the network.



The network mindset is needed to deal with the new demands of intellectual capitalism.  PSL is in transition from buffalo leadership to the flight of the buffalo, a more sophisticated emphasis on networking to customers, vendors, business units, university, and government. This will require skill training in marketing, teamwork, creativity, and collaboration.  This skill training needs to have more to it than a few workshops. People go to workshops and have no way to sustain their new practices.  Rather, a system of knowledge built upon developing a partnership model of Business College training in the new intellectual capitalism paradigm is recommended.  This can be accomplished by developing a feeder course, a course with basic modules in marketing and management approaches that use PSL case materials. This will be follow-up by enrolling as many PSL employees as possible in regular Business College courses.  The focus of the Business College training is on developing attention, ownership and intent and in being more comfortable with change and impermanence.



Belasco, James A. & Stayer, Ralph C. (1993) Flight of the Buffalo: Soaring to excellence, learning to let employees lead. NY: Warner Books, Inc.

Boje, D. M. (2000) Review of Flight of the Buffalo

Chisholm, Rupert F. (1998) Developing Network Organizations: Learning for Practice and Theory.  Reading, MASS: Addison-Wesley (OD Series).


Other References to Consult

Belasco, James A. & Stayer, Ralph C. (1993) Flight of the Buffalo: Soaring to excellence, learning to let employees lead. NY: Warner Books, Inc.  

Boje, D. M. (2000) "Is this Critical Postmodern." This is A Radical Critique of Flight of Buffalo.  

Boje, D. M. (2000) "Leadership: In and Out of the Box"

Lazega, Emmanuel (2000).  "Teaming Up and Out: Getting Durable Cooperation in a Collegial Organization", European Sociological Review, 16: 245-266.

Lazega, Emmanuel (2000). "Enforcing rules among peers: A lateral control regime." Organizational Studies, 21: 193-214.

Lazega, Emmanuel and Phillipa Pattison (1999). "Multiplexity, generalized exchange and cooperation in organizations: A case study."  Social Networks, 21:67-90.