Becoming agile

Agile, through the storms

Archive for the tag “Open Systems Theory”

Don’t reorganize – Deorganize!

Organizations tend to do this every now and again: Reorganize the structure to suit a new strategy, a change in the management team, try out a new hierarchy model, and so on.

In this post I lay out some alternatives, and end with a practical first step.

One of the pitfalls of reorganizations is that they provoke a huge amount of anxiety and resentment: people’s direct and indirect managers change, their role description changes, their promotional path becomes unclear.

I would like to suggest a different approach. Instead of a reorganization, gradually deorganize. Shed away redundant structure, and replace them with loose structures. Allow your organization to grow in response to real market needs, and not according to a decision that was made a couple of years earlier based on data that may have been momentarily correct, but have become irrelevant for today’s reality.

Sounds impossible? Actually, you see such structures every day of your life. When you see ants collecting food for winter, when you see schools of fish swimming together, when you watch migrating birds practicing towards their long flights and when they embark on their fantastic and inspiring far-away journeys.

Waders in flight Roebuck Bay. Photo by Mdk572, Source: Wikipedia

These structures are not decided upon – they emerge according to changing needs of the group. Even ants have changing realities: when their nest is being attacked or flooded, as well as when they prosper and have food in abundance to accumulate for rough times.

In our business life we like to think that we can create strategies that can predict our organizations’ growth and needs for upcoming years. The truth is as far from this as can be. A good strategy is one that enables the organization to continually change in reaction to its present reality. Read more…

Roles and Irresponsibilities

Organizations are built around structures and boundaries. When you join a new workplace you meet your new manager. Sometimes your manager has another manager, and the other manager has their manager, and so on. This is the structure – in this case a hierarchical one.

Within this structure there are boundaries. You learn pretty quickly what you should be talking to your manager about and what not to. In some organizations you should be telling your manager when you are going to buy a new piece of hardware; in other organizations you might have to ask for permissions; and in others you just buy it, no questions asked. These are examples of the boundaries.

Photo by zigazou at

Boundaries themselves are flexible – they are not a line, a Boolean definition whether you are within or beyond the boundary – rather it is a range. If you are at a customer site, and your manager is unavailable, and you must buy that piece of hardware, you will buy it – even if permission is normally required in advance.

That thing that will normally define your place within the structure and the boundaries within which you operate is your role. And with your role, quite often, come also responsibilities. It even has a nifty name: R&R (and no, it does not mean Rest and Recuperation in this context; R&R stands for Roles and Responsibilities).

This idea is derived from the contributions of Open Systems Theory to social systems, notably the work of Kurt Lewin early in the 20th century, and is still evolving today. In our context, roles and responsibilities that are defined at the organizational level impact the team dynamics – their influence originates beyond the team.

The funny thing is that if you have responsibilities, and others also have responsibilities, this also defines what you are not responsible for.

Take the following example: Read more…

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