Professional and Alumni

Focus on Leadership

  • Web of Inclusion

Reprinted with permission.
Mitstifer, D. I. (1995, October). Empowerment. Kappa Omicron Nu Dialogue, 5 (4), 1-2.

Helgesen, in her study of successful women (1990), discovered that the workplaces they led tended to be "webs of inclusion." She explained that their communities were modeled more like a web than a hierarchy and that sharing information was key to their effectiveness. Tom Peters, a popular author in the business realm, predicted that men who wished to stay employed needed to take heed. Indeed, her ideas were ground-breaking in nature. So her next book, The Web of Inclusion (1995), was eagerly awaited.

Helgesen, in this second book set out to demystify the concept of the web of inclusion and give examples so that leaders could understand the purpose, the architecture, and the process.


The web of inclusion is a "model for helping us redesign the institutions that frame our lives" (Helgesen, 1995, p. 16). It is based upon the notion of dynamic connectedness. The web of inclusion, supported by the new science (Wheatley, 1994), demonstrates the "universe in operation: not as a precisely calibrated great machine in which each constituent part is locked into its own immutable slot, but rather as pulses of energy that continually evolve and assume shifting shapes as the various elements interact, and in which identity is inseparable from relationship" (Helgesen, 1995, p. 16).

The web of inclusion, because it is organic in nature, will configure differently with each cast of characters or new set of ideas and objectives. An important characteristic of webs is that they are in a continual state of adaptation. "Web-like organizations are especially apt to be driven by clearly articulated values, since a tight focus on mission is the glue that holds their flowing structures together" (p. 286).

From the perspective of reflective human action, the principles--accept chaos, share information, develop relationships, and embrace vision--are the substance of the web model. The core features--authenticity, ethical sensibility, spirituality, and domains of action--guide the process of meaning-making.


Helgesen (1995) describes the web of inclusion as a new source of order described by Wheatley in her much quoted book, Leadership and the New Science (1994). In other words, the web provides a way of relating individual parts to a greater whole. Because a web is built from the center out, the development is a never-ending process. "The architect of the web works as the spider does, by ceaselessly spinning new tendrils of connection, while also continually strengthening those that already exist. The architect's tools are not force, not the ability to issue commands, but rather providing access and engaging in constant dialogue" (Helgesen, 1995, p. 13).

Because all parts of the fabric of the web matter, all participants share directly in the responsibilities and rewards. This kind of architecture is an integrated network, similar to the technology of our day. Although technology threatened a dehumanized future, the concept of the web of inclusion has the potential, instead, to make a more humanized workplace with the help of technology.


Webs of inclusion are defined as much by process as by the purpose and architecture. The means to achieve their ends distinguish them from other organizational models.

Open communication--Freely flowing information is an essential component of webs. Information without regard for position and "right to know" adds a sense of security and destroys uncertainty, thereby building morale.

Blurred distinction between conception and execution--Thinking and doing are inextricably linked in order to use feedback to modify the very nature of the task as it goes along.

Lasting networks that redistribute power--Unlike traditional organizational models, webs are not disbanded at the end of each task. By maintaining the connections across levels, the teams are able to keep and expand those linkages to the benefit of the organization.

Constant reorganization--New ways of connecting people are needed in order for organizations to be adaptable to every-changing situations and to redefine the nature of its business. Continual reorganization is facilitated because webs are so permeable.

Expansion to the world outside--The web, by its very nature, can expand to include collaborative efforts with other individuals and groups to expand its reach and scope.

Acceptance of trial and error--The ability to try one approach and then another to discover what works and what doesn't provides an effective strategy for operating in a crisis when there is little time to prepare detailed plans.

The web process is more than a team approach; although a web of inclusion often has a specific mission, it is not disbanded or reabsorbed upon achievement of the goals. Instead, it plays a more lasting role because it emphasizes process as well as structure, establishes "new ways of approaching problems, of thinking, of connecting people, of giving them information and motivating them" (Helgesen, 1995, p. 33). In this way, transformation of the organization is achieved.

The Technology of Participation

As a way of summary, Helgesen (1995) compares the web of inclusion to the web in cyberspace and concludes that "participation" is the technology expressed by the web of inclusion. Both are grass-roots structures and, as such, give power rather than vesting it in positional leaders--thus decentralizing power. Both diffuse power through networks. Both offer fulfillment of the individual. Both encourage the hands-on imperative--whatever you imagine, you must try to produce. The principles of the computer hacker ethic "echo the values and principles that define the web of inclusion, in which information flows freely across levels, teams make their own decisions, work on specific projects evolves in response to needs as they arise, and task is more important than position" (p. 280).


Andrews, F.E., Mitstifer, D.I., Rehm, M., Vaughn, G.G. (1995) Leadership: Reflective Human
East Lansing, MI: Kappa Omicron Nu.
Helgesen, S. (1990). The female advantage: Women's ways of leadership. New York:
Helgesen, S. (1995). The web of inclusion. New York: Currency/Doubleday.
Wheatley, M. J. (1994). Leadership and the new science. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler.