It is easy to point out that changing technologies, revised business models and increased competition demand an adaptive response from businesses in order to survive. It is quite another thing to recognise what an adaptive organisation looks like in practice.Many organisational structures appear to be adaptive on the surface when they are no such thing. So, let’s start by looking at what an adaptive organisation is and what characteristics about it make it able to respond proactively, positively and at pace.
Traditional Business Models vs Adaptive Businesses
What is an organisation anyway?
The View From The Ship
The classic view is to see a business as something like a self-contained ship, keeping afloat on stormy seas while sailing on inexorably to its destination. For us this view is part of the problem, as it misunderstands the organisational climate in which staff and managers work, resulting in businesses that consistently fail to deliver on their long-term goals – in other words, ships that never reach port.
Traditional business models further subdivide the ship into a top-down hierarchy of teams and departments. Change is driven in a controlled, top-down fashion, in which business processes are segmented across individual departments – each having its own area of expertise. In effect, a business is parcelled up into specialist silos within which employees are allocated tasks from above. The average employee has little awareness of the big picture or the activities of other teams. They carry out their task and pass the service or product along to the next department. Such an organisation is slow to respond and slow to make decisions. Change, which is as constant as the weather, hits like a storm and the ship either floats or sinks.
The Organisation’s Work-Climate
In our experience, it is more accurate to view an organisation as a diffuse network of people and groups – more like an ecosystem or climate. There is no ship, no impermeable barriers between departments and a rigid hierarchy whereby decisions filter down from a remote management. Change is not an event; it is the sea we all swim in.
This work-climate incorporates your whole workforce of staff, managers and leaders, which is a diverse group of individuals with different perceptions, motivations and feelings. In a complex web, it also extends to your suppliers, partners, competitors and, of course, your customers. In today’s decentralised digital economy, there is frequently no hard and fast barrier between where your organisation ends and where that of a supplier or partner begins.
As in nature, it is the most adaptive individuals, whether we are referring to teams within a business, people or sectors, which survive and develop. The difference is that while nature – that great watchmaker – is blind, organisations have the potential to purposefully guide their direction of change, with new forms of adaptability in specific ways to meet carefully defined goals, which themselves are continually tested against ‘fit for purpose’ criteria.
If creating an organisation with adaptability and Business Agility is your mission, download our eBook Introduction to Adaptive Business Practices and contact us for a free 1:1 call by clicking here.