As you know, I look at this challenge through the lens of the Circle of Impact. My sense is that we need to foster alignment between the three dimensions of leadership - Ideas, Relationships and Structure. We do this by focusing on the conditions that create effective Communication, Collaboration and Coordination.
For me this is a baseline from which all organizations need to begin. What happens beyond that is a change in the function of each of the dimensions.
Communication ceases to be a major problem; your message gets out; and work related issues seemed to be less intractable.
Collaboration grows, new ideas emerge from the improvement of relationships, and the organization needs to change to accomodate a higher level of engagement and initiative by people.
Coordination, though, lags in improvement across departments, remote sites, and programs. The reason is that the system of organizaiton is always the last to change. It has the highest resistance to adapting to changing circumstances. As a result, the optimism that initially rose as communication and collaboration grew also begins to lag.
After a few months or years, a growing impression of either being at a plateau or in decline begins to be discussed openly. Whether rightly or wrongly, the perception that the organization has reached a Transition Point begins to take hold.
In reflection, we can see that the easiest things to change, did. New, fresh, inspiring ideas infused new confidence and motivation in people, impacting how they communicated and collaborated together. This is what is happening in many organizations.
The jump from one inspiring idea to the next ends up artificially propping up the emotional commitment of people to the company and their relationships together.This is not sustainable.
The resistance of the organization's structure to change remains the primary obstacle to a well functioning, fully aligned organization.
The distance and disconnect that employees have from the mission and outcome of the business is the most basic identifying mark of a structure out of alignment. Indifference that people have to their workplace grows. The desire to be left alone to do their job so they can get on to what really matters in their life becomes the defacto attitude of the workforce. In effect, there is no emotional access point for them to invest their whole selves in the work they do.
When this scenario is widely experienced in a company, inspiring ideas and motivational team building programs don't have a lasting impact. The problem is a structural or systems one. Issues of communication and collaboration are symptoms of the problem.
Assumptions about the Product of an Effective Organizational Structure
As I analyze organizations during various projects, I'm looking for various intangilbes that matter. Let's call them assumptions about what an organizational system should produce.
1. Initiative by employees measured by higher rates of engagement and contribution.
2. Interaction by employees that is open and collaborative and that transcends organizational barriers to achieve higher levels of efficiency and impact.
3. Impact awareness by employees who can express their own contribution to the organization's impact as a change that is a difference that matters.
These assumptions are difficult to measure, yet relatively easy to see.
Their performance is more evident when they are missing. People not taking initiative. When there is little interaction between people from different parts of the organization. When employees show little appreciation for the organization's mission and impact.
The question that many of us then have is how to do we redesign our organizational structures so that we realize a higher level of initiative, interaction and impact.
One way to address this issue is through strategic organizational redesign to creates an environment of Shared Responsibility.
Every organization has a responsibility or accountability structure. In older, traditional hierarchical systems, Responsibility resides in varying degrees throughout the organization, but not accountability, which is top down.
A shared responsibility structure creates a shared space of mutual, collaborative, coordinated accountability. This illustration shows an organization where management, staff and the board of directors have a common ground of shared responsibility. The shared space is common ground because the expectation is that each person engaged in this space has an opportunity to contribute out of their own talent, knowledge and expertise within the strictures of their position and role in the organization.
For example, while some members of the management team would not ordinarily work along side of members of the Board of Directors, in this scheme they would because the structure is is organized to provide a shared space of contribution for impact. This approach lowers the organizational barriers that typically make it hard to create a common ground for work.
The purpose of this structure is not order or standardization, but alignment of the functions of communication, collaboration and coordination for the purpose of impact. It is the mission of the organization, not the structure, which drives the change in structure.
This approach is currently being developed for an international non-profit organization whose constituents are in all 50 states and 20 countries globally. The board is small in number; is highly active in collaboration with the staff; and works with a large number of advisors and supporters from around the world who contribute according to their ability.
This organization's aim to create an environment where participation is not boring or disconnected from its mission, but is marked by personal initiative, collaborative interaction, and an organization environment each person has the opportunity to make a difference.
The way an organizational design of this sort works is when the Connecting Ideas of purpose, mission, values, vision and impact are well defined and aligned within the structure, and the leadership of the organization serves as a faciliator of interaction and contribution. Because the organizational structure is a shared space for collaboration, the barriers for constituents to lead through their talent and abilities are low, producing a more highly engagement staff and board.
This kind of structure and leadership must be intentionally designed and developed. This is not a radical departure from the past, but at the same time, it is also not a logical step forward for most of the legacy structures that exist today.
This approach fosters a shared leadership of responsibility. Leadership from this perspetive is the impact or influence that is the result of the personal initiative take to create impact. When the senior leadership of an organization understands that this is where the future of organizations lays, it requires a change in their own leadership approach.
The Ultimate Question
Can legacy organizational structures change to this model of shared responsibility?
I believe it can. The pathway to this approach is in appreciating the importance of the relationship dimension for the creation of the strength and impact of an organization. From that perspective barriers to interaction and collaboration lower or are removed, enabling people to become more engaged with the purpose and mission of the organization, and to do so in relationship with other members of their organizational community.