“Letting Come” Other Organizational Forms and Structures

Transformation theorist Otto Scharmer introduces us to change as a process of navigating a series of openings—hearts, minds, and will—while letting go and letting come.1 Resilient leaders and organizations will take note. Breathing the fresh air of widely shared and transparent data will require different types of organizations. One danger of an unbalanced or dominant focus on growing technical or performance skills—symptomized by metric myopia and benchmark blindness—is fostering a single way of being for the organization. In adhering to “our way of doing things” it is possible to squash real breakthrough thinking and permit only incremental improvements. Vulnerability and frailty await those organizations which follow this path. Worse, as Robb points out, rigid structures tend to inhibit spirit, passion, creativity, and change even as they offer the promise of order and safety.2

System thinkers like Donnella Meadows remind us that the “ability to self-organize is the strongest form of system resilience.”3 This ability to self-organize can be thought of as a cultural inculcation of innovation, experimentation, and welcoming failure as a learning platform. Without this environment, organizations out of balance in pursuit of exquisite “best practice” performance skills may unintentionally trigger archetypal system reactions, the most common of which is called limits to growth.4 Resilient, adaptive organizations (or what futurist Alvin Toffler and management theorist Henry Mintzberg in the 1970s dubbed adhocracies), will be those which are characterized by “informal team roles, limited focus on standard operating procedures, deep improvisation, rapid cycles, selective decentralization, the empowerment of specialist teams, and a general intolerance of bureaucracy. In the digital age, an adhocracy can be put together in a plug-and-play, Lego-like way, well suited in fast-moving, fluid circumstances where you don’t know what you’ll need next.”5

Meadows reminds us that the singular pursuit of performance improvement can reduce our ability to adapt.

“The power of self-organization should be to organizational leaders what biodiversity is to biologists—THE most highly worshipped. Meadows goes on to say that diversity, variability, and experimentation (aka, “losing control”) is counterintuitive, but it is what makes new possibilities happen and creativity bloom. This runs counter to the tendency of every culture, which is the belief in the superiority of that culture. By insisting on a single culture (a single way of doing things), we unintentionally shut down learning and, therefore, erode resilience.”

                                                       

1 C. Otto Scharmer, Theory U: Leading From the Future  As It Emerges, (San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2009)
Robb, “Building Resilient Organizations,” p. 30.  3Meadows, Thinking in Systems, p. 159.
Peter Senge,The Fifth Discipline: The Art & Practice of the Learning Organization (New York: Currency-Doubleday, 2006), p. 96. The author describes the structure of this archetype this way: “In each case of limits to growth, there is a reinforcing (amplifying) process of growth or improvement that operates on its own for a period of time. Then it runs up against a balancing (or stabilizing) process, which operates to limit that growth. When that happens, the rate of improvement slows down, or even comes to a standstill.
Zolli and Healy, Resilience, 4407-14.  Meadows, Thinking in Systems, p. 160.
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