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Organisational Change: Challenges & Interventions

Many organisations today are undergoing change at the organisational, team or individual level.

The VUCA world brings the below Charles Darwin’s statement, to conscious awareness everyday.

“It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent. It is the one that is most adaptable to change.”

When a change happens in an organisational context, what are the common challenges that are seen?

What could lead an organisation/ team/individual to a state where thriving becomes a possibility?

The following series of posts are an abstract of my observations from being part of change efforts & also coaching during times of organisational change.

Change Challenge 1: Silos

“We are not able to achieve our change outcomes because our teams/leaders work in an isolated manner.”

“Our change efforts are only successful in pockets”

These are commons rants heard in many organisations that are undergoing change about silos. If you are a Business Leader/Change manager in the VUCA world the above will seem like “deja vu”.

Lets take a deep dive & observe silos.

‘Silos’ can be of 2 types :

a) structural units with thick boundaries

b) “Scarcity/hoarding” mindsets which operate on lose-lose paradigm.

How are silos formed?

As industries started maturing, there was a requirement of deep expertise & refinement in their core areas. This resulted in creation of specialised departments/teams that had depth of expertise in one thing. These specialised departments contributed to the success & performance of their organisation.

These silos of ‘specialisation’ served a purpose. However, over a period of time, they also created certain dysfunctions. For e.g.: power centres formed which had access to resources & information that were valued in the organisation. These power centres tried to restrict access to key assets/information to the rest of the organisation. This also created a “fear/ scarcity” mindset in the minds of specialisation owners that they are valued only because they have what others don’t. This in-turn fuelled notions of being “irreplaceable”.

Inspite of this, organisations still worked reasonably well till there was time available to orchestrate output & resources from various specialised units to serve a customer need.

In recent times, silos started becoming an ‘able villain’ because the rate of change gives hardly any time to respond. So the lever of “orchestration” which organisations used to tide over their differences/gap no longer works. The expectation is that each of the “units” need to work with other in run-time & get the customer need serviced/product delivered Just-in-time (JIT). With this expectation, we have lost the lever & hence the problem.

“We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them. "

— Albert Einstein

So, let’s look elsewhere.

About 300 million years ago, Earth didn’t have seven continents, but instead one massive supercontinent called Pangaea, which was surrounded by a single ocean called Panthalassa. . About 200 million years ago, Pangaea started breaking into multiple continents sometimes along pre-existing lines of weakness.

Now we have 7 continents akin to the silos we have in organisations.

We don’t complain why we have 7 continents now because we are able to physically get around it. We are connected by air, sea & land. Huge amount of travel & trade flourishes across the countries in the continents. We didn’t get there in a day. Progressive expeditions, discoveries & treaties latter, we are in this place.

If we are to take a parallel from this, what progressive expeditions, discoveries, treaties & actions can we take to generate levers to tide over silos?

Creating Archipelagos: Archipelagos are also called island chains. So what can link/ chain Silos? Common goals/ Superordinate goals & adequate measurements on their achievement go a long way in chaining/linking silos. When there is an understanding that collective success is valued more than individual success, silos have enough motivation to link up. In his book “One Mission”, Chris Fussell stresses the need to build a “single aligning narrative” for all teams to succeed in VUCA situations. A narrative can emerge only from superordinate BHAG goals. Creating this narrative is also key for cascading change efforts.

Creating Fractal teams: A fractal team is one which mimics the entire organisation at a lower scale that has an ability to adapt run-time & is self organising. Implementing change in fractals/cross functional teams may lead to better outcomes than implementing change in individual silos. The very fact a fractal team has been formed to address an organisational cause forces sharing of information.

Creating Abundance mindsets: If we drill down to where the need to maintain silos comes from, most often it leads to a few individual’s sense of fear of loss of power, hierarchy etc. In such cases, bringing them out of scarcity mindset into abundance mindset is critical. Individual coaching is an effective way of addressing this where the individual taps into his strengths to feel “abundant” instead of looking at “outside” sources to feel powerful. By this process both the individual & organisation benefit.

Addressing Systemic faults: Many a times inspite of out best efforts, there are systemic issues which are mis-aligned that take a toll on the entire system & fixing something in one place may not lead to desired outcomes. Group coaching using systemic methods are a great way to bring all stakeholders in functional relationship that maintains the system in a positive way.

Permeability of structural boundary: Sometimes rigid structures & hierarchies create stronger & thicker boundaries. A re-look at the structural complexity is highly recommended in order to jump start movement of resources.

Organisational Network Analysis (ONA) can help uncover bottlenecks & ways to overcome them.

Leveraging Technology may help break data & information silos & help in creating unified view/one source of truth for organisations. Such views democratises information to a large extent atleast at the top levels.

What has been your experience on silos?

What worked for you to circumvent silos?


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