Organizational Adaptability

Organizational AdaptabilitySept. 28, 2010

Rapid adaptation characterizes a Vigorous Learning Company as described in the book Compression. The need to adapt can come from any cause: market shift, financial crisis, environmental changes, and resource shortages among many others.

One way that work organizations innovate quickly is a “Silicon Valley” model, breaking up defunct units in bankruptcy and setting up new ones for new, new things. This model usually centers on an entrepreneur or a small group of them gathering funding for a new idea; then building a new organization around that idea. Some members of the new organization may have worked together before. In the right region this process is aided by local temp agencies with tech skills, and by other skilled free agents that float between ventures. In the past ten years more of these arrangements may be done by remote agreements with people or subcontractors in foreign locations.

An alternative is an “amoeba” model, as with Kyocera, Mayakawa, and the old Hewlett-Packard as an instrument business. Operational units belonging to a big organization are small, but people within them are developed in depth. If a unit fails for any reason, its people can be transferred to healthy units that need experienced help. If an new unit is needed to pursue a new idea, experienced people can be pulled from existing units to form it. This approach also depends on developing people to their maximum capability.

None of these approaches regard the organizational structure of a company as a monument in honor of a business model that worked well for several years. Then when faced with severe change, it could not break up an old monument. Instead structure is a fluid thing. People are developed to adapt to whatever comes next, be being skilled in product introduction, and in new product and new process development.

These skills are developed over time in various ways:

  • Technical skill development in depth in at least one area.
  • Cross-training; rotation among various job responsibilities.
  • Extensive formal and informal systems to investigate technology and events far from the business orbits of the core organization. In effect, it has a well-developed learning network.
  • The core organization does not add so many people that it must structure into compartments that cannot communicate. It wastes little human energy trying to communicate with itself.
  • It is an enterprise motivated by a common mission — people drive themselves by it.
  • Mentoring, especially by senior people.
  • Development of all in a common “language” with which to communicate about problems (like PDCA and A3 thinking, and so on).
  • Development and regular use of a system that stores and codifies what is being learned in various development programs, improvement projects, etc.
  • Careful attention to developing missions, goals, and strategies so that everyone has a sense of how they contribute to a common mission, and to the whole.
  • Regular subjugation to change, just to keep in practice, even if conditions do not mandate it.

Overall, such an organization is regarded as a total team to be developed to the highest level. People are not “minimum cost cogs in a tightly controlled money machine.”

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