I recently finished reading the “The Starfish and The Spider”, a business book bestseller which explains the benefits of distributed organizations and I was surprised by the many parallels to leadership and agile methods. The unusual title illustrates a key difference between networked organizations and traditional organizations. While they may look similar, a spider has centralized systems and if you cut it in half it will die; cut a starfish in half and it will not die, but instead re-grow into two separate starfish (apparently). Without a single head, distributed (starfish) organizations are very resilient and hard to compete against.
Examples of networked entities include Alcoholics Anonymous where each chapter is independent and new chapters can be started anywhere, and peer-to-peer file sharing programs such as eMule that are open source, freely distributed and employ no central registry.
The Agile Angle
A key advantage to networked structures is that they are extremely resilient to breaks in communication channels. A local AA Chapter does not have to rely on instructions from a central body in order to operate. It is empowered to help alcoholics as it sees fit following the vision of the original AA 12 Step Program. Having this freedom to help others as best you can, AA circle members are effective at solving problems where “experts” often fail.