Many of today’s workplaces are inherently complex. They are subject to change that is notoriously difficult to anticipate and plan for, involving human behaviour with all its unpredictability both within and outside the organization.
Nevertheless, there is much to be learnt from the natural world which can help us structure our organizations effectively and efficiently. In my new book, Designing the Purposeful Organization: How to Inspire Business Performance Beyond Boundaries, I explore some of these insights. For example, there is much to be learned from fractal mathematics, which suggests that patterns observable at one level will be self-similar to those associated with another level. For example, by studying how cells organize themselves in our bodies, we can learn a great deal about how to structure teams and organizations. We can also construct systems and measure results in the boardroom that have similar constructs and levels of detail to those for teams at the coal face.
Dealing with complexity
And despite the natural complexity of organizations, there is much that can be done to prevent them from being unnecessarily complicated. For example, we can work consciously to make things as simple as possible, avoiding unwieldy processes and bureaucracy. We can make sure we do away with old systems when we introduce new ones. It sounds obvious but I’m sure we can all think of examples where we still do things the old way rather than embrace the new.
My colleagues and I frequently work with senior teams to co-create an inspiring purpose and a compelling vision. When we have achieved these aims, we help them explore the associated blockages, issues and opportunities associated with the journey. They almost always identify systems and processes that can be improved. They also frequently identify cultural issues that must be tackled – another topic explored in my book.
Supporting effective change
Here are ten principles which will support efficient and effective change, which are explored further in the book:
- CONSCIOUS CONSTRUCTION: Ensure the senior team pays regular and ongoing attention to the structure of the organization supported by appropriate organization design professionals.
- PURPOSEFUL STRUCTURE: This attention should systematically and consciously support efficient delivery of the purpose and vision of the organization.
- EMPOWERED MANAGEMENT: Empower and equip managers to manage the structures that support their span of operation.
- WIDESPREAD TRAINING: Give everyone in the organization appropriate training and support to structure their work environment in such a way as to deliver their purpose and that of the organization in the most efficient manner.
- SYSTEMATIC CULTURE CHANGE: Put in place adequate structures to measure and manage the character of organization necessary to deliver the purpose and vision on an ongoing basis.
- RIGOROUS MEASUREMENT: Create adequate structures to measure the results of the organization, related to the delivery of the vision as it plays out at each level and division of the organization.
- COLLABORATIVE SUCCESS: Establish sufficient mechanisms to determine what success means to everyone in the organization and to ensure this is monitored, delivered and celebrated to grow a shared felt-sense of success that will inspire high performance.
- PROGRESSIVE TALENT MANAGEMENT: Put in place mechanisms to recognize, value, develop and use the unique talents of everyone involved in delivering the purpose and vision of the organization.
- EMBRACED COMPLEXITY: Structures, systems and processes in the organization should take full account of complexity and, in particular, support matrix and partnership working where this is beneficial.
- DELIBERATE SIMPLICITY: Tune structures and processes on an ongoing basis to make them adequately simple, taking every opportunity for reduction, redundancy and visibility.
By Clive Wilson.
Please go to Kogan Page’s dedicated page to buy your own copy of Clive’s book – you can use the discount code DESIGNING20 via the checkout to get 20% off.