Organizing flow in people, networks and business processes by facilitating
empowerment and self-management
‘An advisor is an artist
who together with
others creates a new
‘Coaching is partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative
process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional
potential, which is particularly important in today's uncertain and complex
ICF’s definition of Coaching
A paper by Sonsoles Alonso
Advisor, Team Coach & Trainer
Sr. Advisor Innovative Organization and Professional Certified Coach PCC ICF
Barcelona, April 2017
Innovation in Organizations
The Networked Organization
The Future of Work
Organizational Design Thinking
Curriculum Illusione (vs Curriculum Vitae)
This paper is a view on organization design and team productivity from the perspective of a
former pianist who now works successfully as a Team and Executive Advisor and Coach.
As a credentialled Senior Advisor for Innovative Organizations by the Antwerp Management
School, a certified Organization and Relationship Systems Team Coach (ORSC), an ICF
credentialled Professional Certified Coach, and with a Master's Degree from the Manhattan
School of Music in New York, I bring the authentic art of performance to the fields of
organizational leadership and high-performing teams.
2. Graphic Scores & Dromomania: Self-Management on and off the stage
3. An assembly line of notes: the siloed symphony orchestra and classical music institutions
4. STSL: design in the name of strategy!
5. The ADVISOR as a pianist's left-brain
6. The CORPORATE TEAM COACH as a pianist's right-brain: from assembly line to collaboration
7. Are you an Artist? The Future of Work: Open Questions
My journey around the theme of designing the flow of people and networks started in The
Netherlands in 2011 when I decided to transition from being an artist and cultural
entrepreneur to being an organization designer.
I had gathered over a decade of experience with networked organizations rallying up around
the strong purpose of producing one-of-a-kind multidisciplinary and multimedia productions in
the field of the lean and agile modern arts.
Five years ahead of that moment I had become member of two business networks: the SVE
(Stichting Vrouwelijke Entrepreneurs) and the FZ (Federatie Zakenvrouwen). At that moment I
wasn’t exactly sure of what was going to come out of it all, but what I definitely knew was that
I wanted to build a bridge linking business, modern self-organizing teams in the contemporary
arts, creativity and innovative organizations.
I had had a thing with organization and enabling positive change my whole life, so there I was
passionately curious to find a link between the arts and the non-arts.
During those five years I had the opportunity to see an innumerable amount of companies
from the inside and to listen to leaders and speakers in the field of innovation and
organizations: Arko van Brakel, Annemarie van Gaal, Jaap Boonstra, Rijn Vogelaar, Alexander
Rinnooy Kan and Marc Lammers, just to name a few.
Could I use the ability to trascend domains that I had developed within the arts to cross even
I counted on the enthusiasm and active support of Syntens advisors Dirk van Vreeswijk and
Wilfred Backers. Wilfred Backers also handed me an article by Frank Barrett and said: ‘If this is
jazz to organizations, what is contemporary music to organizations?’
Harry van Ingen, the Socratic coach who saw me give my first steps in organization land
literally pushed a book by Ricardo Semler into my hands: ‘Read this, I think it looks like an
ensemble of contemporary music but in a factory in Brazil. And they make machines, not
Around that time I also became a speaker for the Speaker’s Academy. I remember introducing
my ideas to Albert de Booy. If a few years earlier my composer friend Toek Numan had given
me Arnold Cornelis’ book ‘Delayed Time’ (Dutch: ‘De vertraagde Tijd’) about interdependence
(communicative self-management), I left Albert de Booy’s impressive library in the basement
of the Speakers Academy with The Logic of Feeling (Dutch: De Logica van het Gevoel). Belgian
philosopher and social theorist Arnold Cornelis and Albert had been friends, he said. Besides
being CEO of the Speakers Academy Albert is also a composer. That was one of those rare
moments when everything seems to come together in one single instant.
My first paid project as an organization designer came from an IT company in Utrecht (NL) in
2012: ‘We would like everyone around here to become self-steering and to behave more as an
entrepreneur and less as an employee’, I was told.
With the experience developed during a decade of both interpreting networked scores (music
pieces notated by a composer with graphic symbols) on the stage, and coming together in
networked organizations off the stage to realize multidisciplinary productions, I ‘intuitively’
started to focus on the needs of the company: Why did they exist? What was their purpose?
What was their strategy?
My departing point was not who are the employees and what is each one of them supposed to
be doing but what are the needs of the company and can current employees answer those
needs. That meant a reshuffle of the company: existing employees would have to adopt roles
and most likely perform several of them at the same time, some would probably have to leave
and perhaps new ones would have to be hired.
So there I was, ‘intuitively’ helping a company move away from functions and towards roles
and turning it into a modern music ensemble. Little did I know at the time that what I was
doing actually had a name.
The project was relatively easy for a number of reasons:
It was a small company of 12 people
The project lasted just a couple of months
Employees were creative software developers used to putting new products out there
The distance to the power, both figuratively and physically, was short, everyone could
easily talk to everyone
Knowledge was power
The ease of the project had also most likely to do with the fact that it was not so far away from
where I was coming from professionally.
Where was I coming from?
In The Netherlands I gathered 15 years of experience with self-organization around a clear
purpose both on the stage (within ensembles performing visually notated music) and off the
stage (within teams initiating and realizing multidisciplinary and multimedia productions).
2. Graphic Scores & Dromomania: Self-Management on and off the stage.
Multiple skills, interdependence and the networked collaboration.
Science is organized knowledge. Wisdom is organized life - Immanuel Kant
Music is organized sound - Edgard Varèse
On the stage - Graphic Scores
Hexagonie is a piece of music.
Whereas classical music is notated making use of five lines with dots on and in between the
lines (a score), living composers also make use of graphic notation when traditional classical
music proves ineffective, the result being a graphic score. The example seen above is a graphic
score of an ensemble piece. The aim of such a composition is mostly a research of new kinds
of interactions between the score and the musicians.
It is meant as a new type of 'chamber music' away from the chamber music played in
A graphic score is:
A serious game that allows expert musicians to develop new skills in real time while being
care-free. Based on the instructions given in a legend, the players will be able to make
different choices towards organizing the interaction. A symbol will trigger a gesture which
will generate a new technique that in turn will generate a new type of sound. Graphic
notation allows a musician to put aside everything he or she knows and to approach things
with an open and fresh mind. It is a way of communicating that activates performers
emotionally, allowing them to achieve that ‘something else’.
An iterative process of learning. There will be no such thing as a wrong performance. The
first performance can be seen as a 'minimum viable product' (a 'product' that is not perfect
but that somehow already works) and each time the game is played, the players will have
a better understanding of the piece making each subsequent performance different and
A process to improve the enjoyment of work. The development of new skills and sounds is
experienced by experimental musicians as joy. The experimental musician lives for going to
places where he or she has never been before.
A graphic score:
Contains just a few rules that are clear, easy to remember (do not need to be repeated all
the time), known to everyone through a legenda, and easily accepted (no need for endless
meetings to reach consensus). The responsibility for the end result lies within every player
and everyone at the same time.
Allows everyone involved to have an overview of whole processes (most organizations are
very fragmented, killing innovation)
Creates structure and a feeling of cohesion and coordination.
Is a flexible grid that says what needs to happen but leaves enough room for one’s own
Promotes self-organization, self-selection and self-governance.
Off the stage - Dromomania: a production for two mobile grand pianos, two pianists,
(live) electronics and lasers
Graphic scores show that only two ingredients are necessary for self-organization: a clear
purpose and a few restrictions or boundaries.
The same dynamics apply to the realization of a production. In the case of Dromomania the
clear purpose was to create a new performance for two mobile grand pianos, two pianists,
(live) electronics and lasers. The restrictions were the deadlines and different requirements of
the different public funders, the agreed-upon number of performances and rehearsals before
hand, and the needed budget.
Whereas musical events are placed on a graphic score serving as a grid, the events having to
be placed within the constraints of Dromomania were, among others:
Finding a private sponsor for the two grand pianos as most experimental venues hardly
have one grand piano
Writing the actual proposals for the different public funders
Networking to find partners and define short and long term strategy
Negotiating fees with the different venues
Catering, transportation and hotels
Recruiting the necessary personnel
Administration & Payroll
Making flyers and promoting the production off and online, including the social media
Composing the music
Making the soundscapes and writing the code for the live electronics and lasers
Learning the music
Learning to play with electronic devices to excite the strings of the grand pianos in different
ways and integrating those events with the normal playing of the keys
Learning to move the grand pianos on the stage while performing
The team of Dromomania consisted of about fifteen people.
Officially Marko Ciciliani was the composer and myself, Sonsoles, one of the pianists. In reality
and just like while performing graphic scores, Marko and I did more than our original jobs of
composing and playing, and taught ourselves many new skills.
Composed the music and wrote the code for the electronics
Was the technician on the stage during all of our performances
Designed the flyer
Wrote a powerful piece of text for our public funders
Promoted the production through social media
Negotiated a sponsor deal with Steingraeber & Söhne, a German piano brand that delivered
two grand piano’s valued at € 100000 each for our five concerts in The Netherlands plus
one in Nuremberg (DE)
Negotiated fees with all concert venues
Recruited team members and did the administration including payments
Played the piano keys, played the strings with different devices and made use of theatrical
elements on the stage
Promoted the production through social media
Other members of the team also performed tasks that had little to do with their original
In the intro, when I wrote about my first paid project as an organization designer for an IT
company I mentioned that it had been a reasonably easy project. The working dynamics I was
acquainted with and those of the IT company lied close to each other. Both scenarios are
knowledge-driven and the distance to the power is short.
The question I set myself to answer was: could I redesign a very large organization too?
3. An assembly line of notes: the siloed symphony orchestra and classical music
After the project at the IT company in Utrecht I ran into other experiences which were not as
easy-going. For instance, while exploring the subject of high performance through simple open
questions during a project at a large food company I was awestruck by the resistance of the
group. It became clear that the distance between where the company was, and self-
organization and the accountability that goes with it, was simply too big.
I needed a design methodology to close that gap.
Was the difficulty related to just the size of the companies?
It seemed to me that it had mostly to do with different interrelational dynamics.
In the networked organization I was familiar with, the interaction was in service of a purpose.
In these other organizations I was approaching now, social rank seemed to determine the flow
of the work and in many cases the lack of it.
I would like to refer to these two different dynamics as ‘the social into the flow of work’ versus
‘the work into the flow of the social’ respectively.
At the start of my paper I mentioned that my focus on designing the flow of people and
networks had started in 2011 when becoming an organization designer. In reality, I had
already touched the subject when settling down in Amsterdam after my Master’s graduation in
Between my 5th year and my Master’s graduation and before I settled down in Amsterdam, I
too had been bred in mastodontic organizations with strong hierarchical structures.
What does a symphony orchestra look like?
High specialization: if you play the violin you don’t play the double-bass
High segmentation: each section has a principal for that specific section
The conductor operates as a CEO that holds tight control over the whole
It is run by fear: thou shall not make a mistake!
What did classical music education look like?
High specialization: once more, if you play the violin you don’t play the double-bass
Rank of peers determined their authority
Every student learned the same things and in the same way, there was no diversity and no
deviating from the academic plan
It was also run by fear: thou shall not make a mistake!
Just recently, while interviewing someone in an IT support role within a governmental
organization, he said: ‘If there is a problem, I have been told to look at the VIP list. If a VIP
has an issue, I must solve it within four hours. If the name of the person is not on the VIP list,
sixteen hours are allowed to pass’.
What do these three organizations have in common?
Hierarchy, social ranking. The work, the why, has been plugged into a social web of classes.
Redesigning an organization is in fact altering the existing power dynamics.
My choice to settle in Amsterdam was based on an intrinsic need to break free from restrictive
traditional structures. I wanted to be a professional from a place of joy, not fear. In Amsterdam
I discovered entirely new structures where the governance was designed around a clear shared
As an organization designer, the experience at the large food company left me asking myself
If my need to discover new structures had been an intrinsic one, could I possibly turn
companies around whose need for change was mostly imposed by outside forces?
If redesigning a large and bureaucratic organization was in fact altering the existing power
dynamics, was there a workable framework to do so?
4. STSL: design in the name of strategy!
The model of The Netherlands and Belgium: an integral framework for the design of
organizations (De Sitter, van Amelsvoort, Kuipers, Kramer, Eijnatten)
The answer to both questions is yes! It is possible with STSL.
Organizations whose need for change is brought about by external forces are not capable of
generating that change from the inside out because they operate within a system that is
somewhat isolated from the outside world. Within that context, making employees take
responsibility and be accountable tends to scare everyone.
By searching for boundaries in the work process and eliminating interferences I now as an
advisor can reduce complexity while at the same time creating new organizational building
blocks. As the process is optimized each new organizational unit can concentrate on a specific
group of customers, products or services. This brings about new possibilities for both
increasing operational control and for responding proactively to specific customer
requirements. Resistance to change is reduced and a new door opens towards self-
If some forty years of traditional sociotechnology (STS) had disregarded the business need and
had mainly focused on improving process (the micro level), Ulbo de Sitter, the founder of
STSL, developed an integral organizational design theory that departs from strategy and
acknowledges the human and the technological as interdependent: different and both
necessary. Technology without people or people without technology produce empty systems.
STSL addresses the micro, meso and macro levels simultaneously and does so twice: from the
whole to the parts (macro to micro) when designing the work process and from the parts to
the whole (micro to macro) when designing the management structure.
The integration of both technological and human factors results in a redistribution of power in
the form of a new interaction network not only within the organization itself (management and
employees) but also with unions and workers’ councils.
I still hear someone telling our team repeatedly: ’Remember to invite the union and to make
them part of the change process!’, while working on a case in the automotive sector in a
production plant near Bruges.
Another important development of our time is the necessity to work past the age of 65.
Can we work longer and do so with gusto?
Can we reduce stress, increase autonomy and enjoy more learning possibilities?
Today, more and more, companies are being asked to deliver unique products and services and
to do so under extreme time pressure. The current volatilty of our markets demands from our
organizations to be adaptive and innovative in order to stay in business. A good price and good
quality don’t seem to be enough anymore. If the behaviour of the market has a direct impact
on how we organize ourselves, today’s developments are asking more than ever for collective
awareness of whole processes, alignment between the different departments and layers of our
organizations, and cooperation.
In light of all these developments STSL has provided me with a workable and attractive
framework for positive change that rests on three pilars at the same time: improving the
quality of working life (the autonomy felt by employees leads to more engagement and in turn
to less absenteeism), the quality of the organization (productivity, flexibility and innovation)
and the quality of working relations (openness, participation and partnership).
5. The ADVISOR as a pianist's left-brain
Remember the cover image of this paper? Well, I am not Chinese!
I am an artist!
And not because I can play the piano, which I can, but because equipped with over
fifteen years of experience with the networked organization and now with the STSL
framework, I today have at my disposal a broad spectrum of organizational possibilities
between the bureaucratic organization on the left side of the spectrum and the
extremely lean and agile organization on the other end. STSL was the missing link I
found myself asking for when standing at the large food company.
I am also thrilled to have discovered that the link between the process-driven
organization and the networked organization is the self-organizing team. If the future of
work is networked I now feel empowered with a new mission: I support organizations
towards communicative self-management.
Innovation is not about a technique that we stick to for the rest of our days. Innovation
is foremost about understanding and embracing change.
I can now, in Jaap Boonstra style, be the advisor who comes in, observes as unbiased
as possible, forms herself an idea of how it could be, and as an artist, goes on to shape
that new reality together with others.
Playing the piano is a whole-brain activity. With left-brain Lean STSL practices and tools
I prepare the way for organizations to becoming agile so they can better adapt to ever-
changing market conditions.
How about that ‘together with others’ and adapting to ever-changing market
conditions? That's where the right-brain comes in.
6. The TEAM and EXECUTIVE COACH as a pianist's right-brain:
from assembly line to collaboration
If left-brain lean practices pave the way towards becoming more adaptive, human-
centered right-brain Design Thinking is the secret sauce that organizes that
adaptability, holds teams together, and makes them effective and productive when
solving today's organizational wicked problems. And Systems Thinking is the sauce's
base that holds the interaction of the different parts and stakeholders. Even if
(re)designing just a part, the work can be greatly impactful and empowering by
improving the performance of the system as a whole.
Systems Thinking adds to Design Thinking the need to bring the whole system to the
discussion from the beginning. If problem formulation is the first step in the design
process, then adopting a systems mindset can help with framing and reframing
problems. The two approaches complement each other and each incorporates elements
of the other implicitly.
In the business world, Design Thinking is most often associated with product
development. But it is its value to services, systems, and processes that I bring to the
table in an organizational climate in which everything from management to recruitment
still stubbornly resembles an assembly line of interchangeable parts, but our markets
are more like a tour de force of constantly changing variables.
In the transition from command and control/linear thinking/infinite financial resources
to collaboration/systems thinking/finite financial resources, and on our way to the
future of work, I help organizations become high performing in a design thinking kind
of way, while leveraging the interconnectedness provided by Systems Thinking, with
tools and frameworks that promote effectiveness, productive scaling, continuous
learning and modern decision-making.
The members of the vibrant and high-performing team described in chapter two are
experienced, highly intelligent and have an intrinsic motivation to develop themselves.
The glue holding them together is design thinking, the human-centered approach to
design that takes advantage of their different backgrounds to spur collaboration and
creativity. Radical collaboration works on the principle that people with very different
backgrounds each bring distinctive technical and human experiences to the team,
increasing the chance that the team will have empathy for those who will use what
they are designing. Besides, the collision of those different backgrounds will generate
truly unique solutions.
The reality of many organizations is different, though. That has to do with different
levels of motivation and intelligences, but also with the nature of specific kinds of
How realistic is it to think that effective collaboration can be stimulated in every type of
From the perspective of the dynamical systems theory, systems are complex and
adaptive. This is supported by what looks like a new direction we are moving into, in
which the world is going to be more and more co-sensed an co-created.
Today we need to innovate, to generate engagement and to create healthy work in
what looks like the age of no retirement, and we can do so by tapping into the creative
intelligence of the collective.
In my work with groups I use serious games and Organization and Relationship
Systems Coaching tools that enable productive team creation and participatory
leadership. One of my favorites is Deep Democracy. It acknowledges the minor voices
within a group, aligns inner work with analysis, strategy and organizational
development by constantly keeping track of how the power is working in the moment,
and allows groups to tap into the innate creative and entrepreneurial capabilities
inherent to all humans regardless of development at any given moment.
As a corporate team coach, I facilitate processes to co-create robust strategies and significant
innovation. If coaching is partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process
that allows them to reach their maximum potential, I partner with clients as process
navigators to help them reach their ultimate goals, the end result being better policies,
programs and service systems, designed by much more effective teams. By empowering all
stakeholders from the beginning, it becomes possible to tap the creative energy of every
participant so that innovative ideas emerge from the collective of the differing perspectives.
The ideas generated become more easily implemented and maintained because the
stakeholders involved are the ones who came up with the solutions in the first place. In this
way, the resistance to change processes dissipates.
When designing powerful executive relationships and teams, issues of power will always arise.
Thanks to Process Oriented Psychology and the Diamond Power Index, I have a workable
frame to address power imbalances.
BUREAUCRACY ---------->>> PROCESS-DRIVEN ORG ---------->>> NETWORKED ORG
DESIGNING THE LEAN, AGILE, CREATIVE AND PARTICIPATIVE ORGANIZATION
7. Are you an artist?
The Future of Work: Open questions
If you are a recruiter or HR manager and you are not Chinese, what
can you do starting today to become the artist who values employee’s and
jobseeker’s curriculum of the future, the curriculum illusione? (as opposed
to curriculum vitae which is the curriculum of the past)
If you are a jobseeker or employee and you are not Chinese, what can
you do starting today to become the artist who eagerly learns new skills
while crossing different domains?
If you are a manager or leader and you are not Chinese, what can you
do starting today to become the artist who stimulates contact and
knowledge-sharing across all layers and departments of your
If machines can easily take over our work, what can we do as a collective to co-sense and
co-create new kinds of jobs and sources of income?
Blödes Orchester: Michael Petermann’s symphony orchestra of household appliances
controlled by computers
See it in action here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_gzQJ07gi4c
Designing Productive Teams &
Powerful Executive Relationships