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Breaking Through The Wall: Designing organisations that work for Lean and Agile thinking people

Posted by Stephen Parry on Mar 22, 2016 9:09:41 PM

damaged-wall_fkvgdCP__LCan we design adaptive, innovative and engaging organisations for employees, managers and leaders alike?

Can we really change cultures and management thinking in reasonably short time-frames?

The answer is yes to all of the above provided you know how to break through ‘the-wall’ when you hit it. So what do Lean and Agile principles tell us about the way we need to design, build and operate modern businesses?

Hitting The Wall

You can tell when a Lean or Agile program hits ‘the-wall’ in an organisation. Just stroll down the hallways and you’ll hear comments like:

  • The Senior Managers just don’t get it.
  • How can we possibly scale the program up across all departments?
  • The Return on Investment hasn’t lived up to expectations
  • And of course, the classic, “we should start again and try something else”

All this leaves the Lean and Agile enthusiast, and the staff they motivated, stuck in place asking “how do we move forward”?

Designing for Adaptability

The real point of change is to design better organisations with work that is more rewarding, fulfilling, and even meaningful. To do this we have to ensure management is focussed on developing creativity, innovation and disciplined experimentation to continually solve efficiency, effectiveness and any other problem the organisation encounters.

These are the engines that drive adaptability. The principles and intentions at the heart of Lean and Agile must be supported by organisational practices, structures and behaviours – these are a matter of design not culture as many would have you believe.

The Work-Climate

The real test of how well the design of the organisation supports the engines of adaptability is through a close examination of the work-climate.

The work-climate is the surface layer of a culture which influences how we make decisions, collaborate and most importantly, collectively learn. A work-climate analysis provides a window into aspects of everyday work and organisational design that either helps or hinders the willing contribution of the workforce towards improvement, change and innovation.

In our change work, we find people want to behave in more constructive ways, but organisational systems and norms prevent them from scaling ‘the-wall’.

Passive Resistance

It takes a lot of individual effort and position power to scale the wall alone. Some succeed in changing the environment even while the vast majority of their colleagues keep their heads down patiently biding their time until those who are driving change fizzle out.

Sadly, many organisations have become very adept at passively absorbing change pressures until the fizzle out point.

Another Brick In The Wall

New forms of adaptability have been implicit in the lean and agile movement for some time. But they are rarely implemented because managers mostly use Lean and Agile for ‘traditional’ managerial outcomes– such as driving down costs, looking for efficiency gains and possibly an enhanced customer experience. Simply trying to do the same thing for less instead of doing something different for more. E.g. new products and services for more revenue.

Continuous Change not Continuous Improvement

The reality is that it should be about mastering continuous change, not continuous improvement. Master continuous change and continuous improvement follows. The inverse is not true.

It’s about being adaptive, changing rapidly, making it effective and then changing it all again. Creation, optimization, destruction becomes an everyday process – an expected business practice.

Paradoxically in a highly technological and complex world the workplace needs people more than ever who see the big picture, collaborate to resolve the problems of continuous change and have the ability to continually redesign their own jobs, goals and measurement systems.

If you release the potential of your people, the people will realise the potential of your business

The importance of organisational design in promoting the right behaviours to create adaptive work climates cannot be underestimated.

The promise of Lean and Agile principles is in redesigning the work and the organisational practices to nurture employees’ willing contribution to establish a real human enterprise that is adaptive, innovative and engaging at both the group and organisational level.

The blog post below dovetails with the subject of a talk I'm giving at the Agile Eastern Europe Conference taking place in Kiev, Ukraine April 8th and 9th. For more information please click here.


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Topics: Adaptability, Change Leadership, Work Climate

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