Organisations are complex systems. Their degree of success or failure is probabilistic. It is the result of how different internal parts interact with each other.
‘How different parts interact with each other’ is essence of an organisation’s strategy. Adding corporate jargon does not change that fact.
The upside for organisations is that they are complex systems but adaptive. Adaptive in the sense that the participants are always adapting to each others’ actions.
Let us try to understand this with an (over simplified) example.
‘Say sales department at Acme corporation is trying to hit its annual 10M $ quota.
Ryan, their senior sales rep, has already exceeded his quota. Now he is helping the recently launched Services team to achieve their goals. In fact, a few other key individuals have also joined him to form a virtual team. Only to help Services team get on track to success.’
It is clear that individuals at Acme corp, adapted to each others’ situational needs. Surprising it may seem, but what Ryan & others did here is not a norm.
Rarely do organisations afford teams & individuals the liberty to be adaptive. To be able to respond to change.
Complex Adaptive System
Its easy to treat the above example as a mundane one. But its easier said than done. Leaders & managements need to consiously create an organisation that is capable of adapting. Fast changing business landscapes dictate so.
Complex adaptive system is defined as one where perfect understanding of individual parts does not automatically convey a perfect understanding of the whole system’s behavior. (Wikipedia)
Processes within the organisation must encourage adaptive collaboration among the participants.
Complex adaptive systems tend to follow a domino effect based on triggers. The triggers could invoke constructive or destructive behavior. i.e. a bad decision could trigger a chain reaction of harmful behavior.
Reverse is also true, i.e. organisations can incentivise behavior that would lead to overall success. Such incentives need not be limited to financial or monetary gains.
Rather than forcing set in stone processes & rules, put in place open ended frameworks. For example, OKRs goal setting accounts for changing priorities. It encourages course correction rather than achieving de-prioritised targets.
Characteristics of Adaptive Organisations
Some of the key characteristics of adaptive organisations are listed below. And not surprisingly they are pretty much in line with agile principles.
- Values & principles over rules & processes
- Roles & responsibilities defined, but can be easily shifted
- Cooperation over competition
- Incentivising positive behavior via constructive feedback & agile goal setting
- Individual contributions are adapted based on team & company goals
- Coaching over micromanagement
- Engaged over over-worked
And of course, the list is not exhaustive.
Lack of adaptiveness is often one of the reasons why organisations fail. While the theory sounds pretty convincing & easy, implementation is always the tricky part.
As it is said, ‘map is not the territory’. This article is only a map & must evolve as the organisations traverse the territory.