Many established companies struggle immensely with the concept of becoming more agile. On the one hand, they wish to react quickly to unforeseen circumstances by creating innovative opportunities. On the other hand, they fear that their size, level of establishment and need for structure might get in the way – or simply – that chaos will break loose if they even try.
Agile organizations are about balance and structure
Agile organizations are sometimes perceived as chaotic due to their high level of self-organization. The recognition that self-organization can backfire has been sufficiently fueled by some prominent cases that have received more or less deserved bad press.
However, many people do not understand that flexible self-organization follows rules and surprisingly standardized procedures. In other words, people often view agility in a very one-sided way stressing the novelty (self-organization) while not acknowledging the familiar (structure).
Key factors to keep in mind when designing a balanced agile organization:
- There are many different agile organization designs.
- Agile design requires a healthy equilibrium of stability and agility.
When addressing these two components, companies are given the opportunity but also the responsibility to decide which design is the right fit for them.
Using images and metaphors to find the right fit
The beauty of agile designs is that they can be created in many different ways – literally tailored to the individual company. The issue however, is that with so many choices, it is indeed difficult to find the right fit. To mitigate this problem, we often ask our clients – after rounds and rounds of data collection and analysis, conversations and round-tables, etc. – to think of an image, a metaphor or a symbol that represents their organization.
In many cases, we don’t even have to prompt the thought of an image; it simply emerges during the collaboration. One of our clients modeled their new organization design to resemble the structure of a brain (read SAGE article on this case), another one chose the image of a city and yet another the design of a tree.
Benefits of images
Images and metaphors help us make sense out of our complex world. When the mind gets overwhelmed with too many options, images and metaphors serve as a quick snapshot that reminds us of what we consider most important. An image often becomes the guiding star aligning us with our most relevant goals.
On a more practical level, images can:
- Show us what the majority of the organization considers important.
- Help us see the organization’s underlying structure.
- Give us guidance on how to model the structure.
- Engage an entire organization around that image.
- Use an image for further processes such as on-boarding or organizational culture development.
What’s more: No living system can do without structure and balance; images help us preserve that balance in a natural way. At the same time, a consistent image reminds us of the reason for the structures in place. And last but not least, images diminish our fear of the change ahead, because they model the future in the present.
Enough reasons to give images and metaphors a try in your agile organization design?
About the author:
Erika Jacobi is the President of LC GLOBAL Consulting Inc., a boutique change and innovation consulting firm with offices in New York City and Munich, Germany. LC GLOBAL® leads organizations through important change and innovation processes to pave the way for unique transformation and sustainable growth. For more information visit www.lc-global-us.com or follow us on
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