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Organizational Resilience for Fluid Times

Organizational Resilience for Fluid Times

Nov 14, 2021

By: Jennifer Simpson & Dianne Dickerson

We think about organizations, their aspirations, and how to help them achieve them – a lot! It’s our job and our passion. With the many and rapid changes of the last two years and the many more to come, we see great value in developing leaders who have greater comfort and facility with change. We aim to bring about organizational change in Kind, Open, Adaptive, Networked, and effective ways. We have a longer article about that. This post highlights a few powerful principles and shares a mini case study that illustrates them.

Have you ever been to a training or read a book that made so much sense you couldn’t wait to try it out in your organization? If so, we hope you met with astounding success. However, we have often seen well-intentioned, energized people armed with great ideas run headlong into systems that have not evolved to match or even support the training. When that happens, it can feel like someone designed the system to thwart progress intentionally. While that is rarely true, it is the case that we have spent more time in the last several decades focused on the truism that “organizations don’t change, people do.” That is both demonstrably true and inadequate for driving real change. Yes, people can change organizations, and are the only source of that change, but systems are built to be resilient and everything from the software we use to the policies we make to the way we design buildings and communication practices can either support, or interfere, with where we are trying to go.

We believe the answer lies in training individuals and evolving the system(s) they work in iteratively in a coordinated way. This approach lets us have clarity about where we want to go, start from where we are, and make meaningful changes at a pace the system can assimilate to evolve directionally rather than dramatically. Over time, this consistent evolution can add up to significant and lasting changes. Here are some principles that guide our progress:

  • Begin with the end in mind
  • Build human-centered models
  • Trust in transparency
  • Center diversity
  • Recognize structural determinacy

To illustrate, we’d like to share a change that is currently underway at Integrated Work. We have been interested in self-organizing models for many years now, helping numerous clients along their journeys and watching, experimenting, and learning ourselves. We’ve seen some successes, a few stumbles, and some out-and-out failures. We knew the experience we were looking for and had a positive, transformative, and empowered end in mind.

Inspired by all we’d learned, we looked at our existing ways of operating and chose a few patterns from the systems we’d studied that solved some issues our team was struggling with. The new pieces we introduced answered frustrations and gave people tools that made work and meetings flow more easily. Specifically, we started with a few elements of a tactical meeting structure. We didn’t implement a whole system or even identify it as such, but offered some help then waited to see what happened. As it happened, the team welcomed most of it, and the parts they didn’t were adjusted to fit or dropped like a hot rock. Our approach centered on the humans we were out to serve.

As our collective muscles developed, we began introducing information that gave the team a window into our finances and operations in a more profound way. We started with a little bit of financial information. The team was curious, wanting to know more as a way to support the development of the business, so we went deeper, trusting the team with more details. That trust in transparency has paid off in a better-informed team and offers us a greater sense of stewardship for our collective future.

As we structure our teams and circles to fulfill internal and client projects, we always consider and adjust for diversity as needed. We know that a diverse team is more innovative, flexible, and resilient – and they produce excellent results. We’ve made solid strides and continue to broaden team diversity and deepen our appreciation for diverse views and experiences. Centering diversity offers many gifts and is helping us become the organization we want to be in the world.

Even as we create additional structures, we consciously and continuously release those that no longer serve. The beauty of building an appreciation for evolution into our organizational DNA is that change has become an expected and celebrated part of our work together. We see dismantling approaches, structures, and teams in favor of others that better fit our intentions as a sign of progress in the direction of our dreams. No structure is more precious than that.