Traditionally, organizations are often depicted as a pyramid. This then stands for a solid organization, powerful, stable, safe, robust. But are those still the ultimate characteristics that will make an organisation survive and thrive these days?
What the VUCA?
The world in which we now live and work is characterized by rapid changes. It is a VUCA world: Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous. A world in which the biggest competition comes from unexpected angles. A world in which changes follow each other faster and faster – and have major consequences. A world in which far-reaching digitization fundamentally changes people’s daily lives and organisations’ daily operations.
Solidity, stability and robustness are important characteristics for many organizations. Also, and perhaps especially, in a VUCA world. But in addition, another characteristic has become essential to survive in a rapidly changing world. That characteristic is agility.
A pyramid structure versus agility
The disadvantage of a pyramid is that it cannot be moved from its place. It is too solid. That was perhaps fine in times when the competition had similar business models and market conditions changed gradually. But in the current VUCA world the lack of manoeuvrability can have major negative consequences. When the competitor of a retail chain of music-records streams music instead selling physical cd’s… When the most disruptive competitor in the hotel industry does not actually own any buildings but uses people’s homes as a business model… And when the biggest threat to the taxi industry does not own a single car, but operates through the taxi drivers’ means…
Firmness and stability are not enough to survive. Agility is needed.
I therefore believe that modern agile organizations are an upside-down pyramid. Autonomous agile teams form the top of the organization. These are the sparkling high performance teams where business value is created. All structures and processes in the organization must be focused on supporting those teams to excel – that is the place where added value is delivered that contributes to the overall purpose of the organization. Leadership should be supportive and inspiring towards those teams.
Such upside-down pyramids do not seem very stable at first sight. But imagine that it starts to spin, it will become as powerful as gravity!
To spin or not to spin
I like to see modern agile organizations as a spinning top: stable and agile at the same time. The energy that is needed to keep it spinning is created by inspiring servant leadership, by leadership which communicates a clear and appealing vision, by value streams of high-performing autonomous teams and by a mindset that includes continuous learning and improvement.
Once a spinning top is on a roll, it is easy to move. It is important to let it move in the right direction of course. There is an important role for leadership here. To ensure that mission, purpose and strategy are clear to all teams. To create the alignment that is needed to keep the right course as an organization, when realising aligned autonomy.
The transformation from pyramid to spinning top is a major transformation for organizations. A change in organizational principles, structure, processes, culture and leadership. But at the same time it is a movement that can be started relatively easily in parts of the organization. The success it creates will lead to an acceleration: the energy creates momentum.
In january we launched our start-up Inspinity. Our logo is a spinning top: at Inspinity we are passionate about helping organizations to transform from pyramid to spinning top. We guide and coach organizations on their journey towards a stable, agile and sparkling organization – adaptive to change and a great place to work. I love being part of this cool, sparkling agile start-up. A brand new company, a new kid on the block, with an enormous amount of experience in creating real organizational agility. I’m looking forward to the adventure ahead of us and looking forward to support many organizations on their journey towards agility!