Organisational Leadership

Organisations are becoming more complex operating in contexts more fluid than ever before (more details).  Yet we still assume that they can be “run”.  Whilst some of the old assumptions still hold true, the very context within which they are based is changing (more details), and this results in waste (more details).  Taking a view of an organisation as a complex system highlights the need for a new way of seeing things.

Many metaphors exist for this, as do simulations and exercises. Most of those who participate in the simulation below initially feel it is impossible, and are surprised by the outcome… you will see just over two dozen people who have been asked to position themselves in an open space at complete random…

So why did they all laugh? They were asked “What would have happened if we had put one of you in charge?”. And they laughed because they all knew they would never have achieved the task so well if someone had tried to lead or manage the process.. Yet many leaders try to do just that – over-control their organisations and get frustrated, because complexity does not work like that!

So how did they do it? It was a highly complex exercise which was done quickly without a nominated leader. Indeed if it had been given an assigned leader it would probably not succeed. There were 8 principles in place to enable the team to do an very complex task without a leader. These principles can be organised into four complementary pairs, and two groups of mainly “hard” (yang) and mainly “soft” (yin) principles, as shown below. And they can be applied to organisations.

Each of these principles has a wealth of detail.  In outline:

  • “Soft” principles – the “Yin”
  • Underlying organisational purpose – the implicit rasion d’être, which gets people motivated and unites them
  • People’s skill/will – people have both the skill to do their job and they are motivated, which allows devolvement
  • Tolerance to ambiguity – things look a bit chaotic and there is a degree of tolerance to such ambiguity
  • Freedom to act – individuals have full discretion how they go about doing jobs/achieving objectives
  • “Hard” principles – the “Yang”
  • Clear individual objectives – each person knows what he/she is trying to achieve and why, and there is an element of self-setting
  • Few simple rules – there are a few clear rules which lay down how people operate and the key principles they must follow
  • Unambiguous feedback – there are clear measures which enable people to see how they are doing at any point in time
  • Clear boundaries – these lay down what people are enabled to do or not, and where they should operate

At the same time as these organisational principles need to be in place, a wider view of how individual leadership is practiced needs to be understood.  Like a fractal this forms an important part of the people’s skill/will principle (more details)… Having these principles in place is only half the story – if leadership is not practiced in a new way, the potential these principles offer is diluted.

We have developed an on-line self-assessment tool to look at how well place a team or organisation is. Click here for more details. We can also arrange a wider 360 for an organisation to do – for more information contact