Organisational flexibility is a much discussed topic.
The purposes of this “hack” are:
- Providing a model which is designed to enhance organisational flexibility;
- Ensuring involvement of employees;
- Making work more interesting and participative;
- Understanding other department workers point of view;
Globalisation, rapid technological change, increased competition and shortened product life cycle have created a hypercompetitive, unpredictable and rapidly changing business environment. Under these conditions, many organizations fall when they fail to keep up. More and more companies are now developing capabilities which help them to continuously align with the ever-changing external environment and gain first-mover competitive advantages.
Evidence showed that higher level of functional structure and formal control are associated with lower organisational flexibility. In order to overcome rigidity and resistance, many companies unleash renewal capabilities by moving away from vertical, highly centralised and functional-focused environments to fluid, organic forms (such as boundaryless organisations, modular organisations etc.) with less boundaries, rules and control.
While a fluid environment can enhance flexibility, organisations need to be careful not to lose stability. As researchers pointed out, fluidity and stability are the two necessary dimensions of flexibility; too much fluidity can lead to overreaction and waste of resources; flexibility without stability results in total chaos.
Therefore, the challenge for managers is to craft an organisational environment with the right balance of stability and flexibility and the inherent dysfunctional flips and rigidity.
I believe that functional departments and core processes, procedures, boundaries, and identities are necessary to support an organisation’s stability; fluidity can be enhanced at an individual, behavioural level. Therefore, the balance of stability and fluidity can be achieved through continuous learning and improvements (which helps to overcoming individual cognitive maps). Research showed that project-level processes display similar features of an evolutionary learning process hence can be used as experiments to enhance learning. Therefore, I propose a dual model: introducing a new project (aimed at developing and enhancing organisational renewal capabilities) running parrallel with the existing functional departments.
According to research, renewal capabilities consist of “Swiftness”, the speed of creating alignments; “Proactivity”, the ability to proactively engage in generating alternative decisions; “Adaptability”, the ability to adjust structures, routines and processes to respond to changes and “Resilience”, the ability to minimise stress and recover from unexpected events. Since the purpose of this project is to develop and enhance renewal capabilities, I will name it Project SPAR (swiftness, proactivity, adaptability and resilience) to highlight all four components.
The project should be carried out in four phases.
Phase-one of the project is aimed at creating awareness and getting organisational support. The following steps apply:
- Form project steering committee:
As this is a strategic project, committee members should include senior managers such as executive officers. The project manager (with strong communication skills and HR background) should report directly to the CEO, separate funding should be provided for this project.
The CEO should announce the appointment of the project manager to the company.
- Project awareness presentation:
The project manager should carry out presentations company-wide to ensure that the purpose, necessity and benefits are made aware to all members of the organisation.
- Informal communication with employees
The project manager should also communicate with all relevant individual employees; provide clarity so that the purpose, necessity and benefits of the project are well understood. This process can be repeated depending on the situation.
Phase-two of the project is aimed at integrating individual knowledge, enhancing communication and improving understanding. The following steps should be applied:
- The project manager should request each department to write about their understanding of other departments, for example:
- What does department ‘A’ do?
- What are their main functions?
- How do they bring values to the organisation?
- What is our relationship?
- How well do we communicate?
- How well have we worked together?
- What have they done well?
- What have they not done well?
- What should be improved and how?
- How can I help?
- The project manager should then summarise and present findings to each functional department and explain to them how they are perceived by other departments, what are the perceived issues, and explore solutions.
- The project manager should then summarise these discussions (with proposed solutions) and present findings to the steering committee. The steering committee should review and contribute to the suggested solutions.
- Department presentation
Each department to introduce themselves, provide clarification regarding their functions (and correct misunderstandings if any), openly discuss the identified problems and proposed solutions. In each presentation, volunteers from other functional departments can be selected to engage in a cross-departmental orientation programme.
- Cross-departmental orientation
Volunteers should exchange with members from other functional departments and perform their tasks, observe and gain different knowledge, and understand why some problems exist.
Employees can discuss their experiences with the project manager at any time. The project manager should record what an employee has learnt, what has worked and not worked, and record any further improvement suggestions.
Phase-three of the project is aimed at promoting learning and improvements.
- The project manager should help each functional department to come up with an improvement action plan based on the identified issues and suggestions. The project manager should facilitate discussions with other departments if required. The project manager also needs to ensure that improvement actions are contributing towards holistic improvements not local optimization.
- Members from other relevant functional teams should participate.
- The project manager should monitor the progress and record how individuals are working with each other, for example, is there any personality conflict? Are there any members who do not work well in a team? Such information should be recorded in the human resource database.
- The project manager should provide guidance, support and resolve conflicts. Facilitate team activity coaching and training if required.
- Provide on-going project report to the steering committee.
Once employees have gained good understanding of the organisation and formed connections with people in other departments, project manager can introduce more challenging tasks.
Phase-four is aimed at encouraging creativity, passion, ownership, autonomy and resilience to failure.
- CEO to announce challenges facing the organisation and seek ideas from any individual or team.
- Employees can form any teams as they wish, generate and document their ideas.
- Ideas will be reviewed by senior management and the CEO; selected ideas will be rewarded and implemented.
- The project manager should facilitate communication among members; provide additional support and encouragement to members whose ideas are not chosen.
- Enhance employees’ awareness to the internal, external environments and the necessity of being flexible.
- Enhance communication.
- Gain better understanding and visibility of employees by building up human resource database from real cases and live data; this database can provide valuable information for team-building in the future.
- Encourage empowerment, autonomy, passion, creativity by allowing employees to propose their ideas.
- Make jobs more interesting.
- Enhance proactive ability by encouraging issue analysis and discussion.
- Enhance adaptability by introducing cross-departmental orientation programmes.
- Enhance resilience by providing a supporting environment where failures are recognised as part of the learning experience.
The project can start by:
- Forming the project steering committee.
- CEO to announce the appointment the project manager to the company.
- Allocate project budget.
- Carry out project awareness presentation.
Dr. Bernie Frey who gave me this opportunity.
PB who gave me endless support.