The fundamental challenge in developing an organisation is that much of its value is based on its future state and that naturally creates tension between the idealised future state of the organisation and the actual reality of its current state. This tension is usually considered from an outside-in perspective, where an organisation’s actual performance is continually judged against forecast performance. If actual performance diverges from what had been forecast, then various policies and initiatives are usually introduced in an attempt to converge on the idealised future state.
Taking this outside-in approach, however, can often prove ineffective because the fundamental tension between the current state and future state often doesn’t show up in the reporting methods and performance indicators that are being used to explicitly measure actual performance against forecast performance. The fundamental tension that is invariably encountered when moving an organisation from its current state into its chosen future state is in the dynamic connection between the inner world imaginings and ideas of the people embracing the future vision and the current reality of their collective outer world.
Engaging with these dynamic flows between inner and outer worlds is usually avoided when taking an outside-in approach as they can seem messy, unpredictable and complex. It can be simpler to think of an organisation is an object, or series of objects, that can be developed through a series of policies and initiatives, organisational upgrades that are simply bolted on, but an organisation is not a simple object. It is a collection of teams, of leaders, of partnerships, of individuals that naturally form into tribes silos, fiefdoms and cabals. And to successfully develop an organisation you can’t just simply work with component parts in isolation, you actually have to work with the dynamic connections between all different parts of your organisation and develop those.
Trying to work with these organisational connections from a static outside-in perspective is largely ineffective, as each part of the organisation dynamically influences other parts. The various parts of your organisation don’t have static characteristics that can be simply defined, they are constantly shaping and responding to other parts of the organisation through all the connections between them. And all these connections are dynamic flows rather than simple static comparisons. It can often seem easier and less disruptive to simply avoid these tensions and ignore them but the problem with doing that is that they will continue to develop and your organisation will continue to develop through these connections but not in the way that you would ideally like it to.
When I work with you in developing your organisation, we work from the inside-out by naming and identifying these tensions, understanding ownership and contribution, and exploring the choices that you have in using these tensions as effectively as possible. Rather than just avoiding or ignoring these tensions, or saying ‘that’s just how it is around here’, naming, owning, choosing and using these tensions enables a resilient and dynamic structure to emerge. This dynamic structure is how your organisation is really organised and enables you to work directly with the continual feedforward–feedback loop between where the organisation is just now and where it has the potential to be in the future. The key to successfully developing your organisation is not in seeing it as an outdated machine to be controlled from the outside-in but organising it as a futuristic organism from the inside-out.