Adapt refers to more than an organisations ability to change. Contrary to our normal understanding of the word adapt, which is mostly used in a reactive sense, we are talking here about proactive adapting, or proactive change. Adapting not to current circumstances, but to your understanding of future circumstances. In a recent study I did on the characteristics individuals need to succeed in the future workplace, this mindset aptitude for proactive change was called a passion for change which refers not only to the ability to cope with change, but also the ability to embrace and create change. In order to survive in today and tomorrows economy, organisations need to have both the mindset of proactive adapting (a passion for change) and the dynamic organisational design that will support, sustain and encourage this continuous change.
As organisations are faced with an increasing demand for flexibility and adaptability, huge strain is being placed on current organisational structures. It often happens that we try to operate in a complex, multi-dimensional, fast-changing and chaotic environment with organisations that are still Taylored (excuse the pun) for a previous era. This creates a great deal of confusion regarding roles and responsibilities (which leads to conflict, insecurity and often a breakdown of trust) as the environment continually forces employees to cross departmental, functional and hierarchical boundaries. Government departments especially struggle with this dilemma, but they are not alone. Many corporates (and their organograms) do advocate a loose, project-oriented, matrix structure, but middle management often still covertly cling onto little silos/empires of their own, making the confusion, conflict and insecurities even worse than within an overtly rigid structure.
On the contrary, an organisation that looks more like a fluid alliance of teams can respond quicker to change and notions of change. Dont get me wrong Im not suggesting that you should restructure your company into fixed, long-term teams. This will most probably only create a new, differently structured, structure. What you probably could consider (for a start) is to loosen up a number of project-oriented teams that assemble around specific project goals and then disassembles again at the completion of the objectives. No matter how you decide to do it, you need to build flexibility(and the ability to respond to chaos) into the very fibre of your organisation.
A lot has been written on the learning organisation (see Peter Senges work). This learning, amongst other things, refers to an organisations ability to learn from its experiences. Do we capture what we learn? Are these learnings being fed back into the system for future reference? Do we have an atmosphere where people are willing and able to give honest opinions and feedback? Are we open to experimenting and failing? Does failure get punished or rewarded?
Teams, as functional sub-units within an organisation, can be highly effective in generating and capturing learning, developing individual team members and feeding learning and experience back to the organisation. The fact that people can relate and connect better in smaller units, where a common goal is sought, also makes people more willing to ask and give honest feedback, risk making mistakes and develop each other. In the team a safe atmosphere can be created where this learning can take place. Of course the feedback and accountability mechanisms need to be in place in order to ensure that the learning is captured and really fed back into the system. And of course a general openness to learning need to exist in the bigger organisation before it will be truly effective in the sub-units (teams) that the organisation is made up of. But teams can be highly effective units to foster, grow and sustain a learning climate in the organisation.
A further benefit of seeing your teams as your primary learning units, is the potential for cross-functional or inter-disciplinary learning. In dynamic project teams we find people who would normally sit in different departments, working in one team towards one goal. Suddenly the financial and environmental specialists are working shoulder to shoulder with the engineer and sales executive. A great opportunity for debate, conflict, learning from diversity and innovation.
Relate refers to your companys ability to connect with its people. Not only the people drawing salaries from it, but also the people spending money on its products and investing capital in it. We are thus talking about your companys ability to relate to its stakeholders. Or, put differently, to engage in, grow, and sustain meaningful relationships with employees, customers, investors and the community it operates in. We live in a connection economy where an organisations competitive advantage lies more and more in this relational ability. The challenge is to create strong and effective relationships through which people can fulfill their true potential and thus be of optimal value to the organisation. Also remember that the people working for you today will be your customers, business partners, community leaders and investors tomorrow. Strong relationships pay off sooner or later.
Teams are exceptional vehicles for an organisation to connect with its people on an inter-personal level. Teams provide the closeness and togetherness through which relationships can start and develop. The team is the link between the intra-personal, inter-personal, organisational and customer-interface relationships. It is on the project-team level that the organisations vision and values become practical and authentic. It is also on this level where the customer-experience is felt and where people connect on levels beyond day-to-day operations and deadlines. And if the broadband information-flow that results out of these, more personal, connections are fed into the organisational consciousness, you can get an organisation that is in sync with the values, dreams and fears of its people.
The DNA of your organisation is what really carries the information about your existence. Unlike, biological DNA, however, you can determine what you want to embed into the DNA of your company. And if what you want your company to be is to realise at all, then it needs to be reflected in the smallest sub-systems you are made up of. Teams. Not just departmental sub-groupings. Multi-disciplinary teams that are mini-versions of the bigger system. Teams that can change and make decisions. X-teams.