Integrated Work: A New Model of Organizing

Integrated Work: A New Model of Organizing

Sep 8, 2020

By: Jennifer Simpson

Our company was founded more than 22 years ago on the belief that life and work need not be at odds with one another and that people do their best work when we treat them as Human-First.  This principle is reflected in our Ideals and we live and breathe it every day—both with one another and with our clients.

We’ve always been students of better ways of living and working and we’re already being inspired by emerging models of organizing and leadership shaping the future of work before COVID hit.  Last fall, we were counseling our clients (and taking our own advice) to “zoom out” and take a broader view to solving todays’ most complex issues.  Little did we know how prescient (and punny) that advice would prove to be.

Throughout this crisis, the organizations, and people, who have adapted most easily are those who had developed resilience and built flexibility and adaptability into their fabric.  Where rigid business models and traditional role structures have created constraints, agile frameworks have enabled evolutionary results.

As the crisis began in earnest in April, we wrote about the New Leadership Literacies that foster these more fluid models of organizing. One of the core principles of that work is designing “shape-shifting” organizations, as Bob Johansen wrote in his book, The New Leadership Literacies, Thriving in a Future of Extreme Disruption and Distributed Everything.  These organizations are able to pivot quickly to a changing environment because they steer by a common purpose and toward shared goals instead of being governed by quite so many rules and policies. The idea is that no leader can possibly predict the range of possible scenarios well enough to have a rule for everything—and that, in fact, the “right thing to do” in some circumstances might be exactly the wrong thing in others.  Instead, leaders in these more nimble systems provide constancy of purpose and clearly articulate what success looks like so that the people in them can make smart moment-to-moment choices in service of shared goals.

Frederick Laloux called these “Next Stage” Organizations and suggested that the ways people come together to get things done must be responsive to the times they live in—that as mindsets and circumstances change, so must our methods for accomplishing our goals.  This image created by Rod Collins, Director of Innovation at Optimity Advisors and first published in the Huffington Post, captures these different stages of organizing well:

If the last few months have taught us anything, it ought to be that fragile things break badly and in ways that make it hard to put them back together again.  In a world where teams are now more distributed and old models of management don’t work for ensuring accountability, building anti-fragile systems are more important than ever.

We will weather this current storm, but not without casualties, and we will come through it changed.  The question becomes, “How will we rebuild?” At Integrated Work, we are drawing inspiration from all of these models, and also exploring holacracy to help us build structures that adapt and empower people to make their highest contribution. We’ll be sure to share what we are learning here, and if you are experimenting with new models, or wanting to, we’d love to hear from you so that we can learn together.