Are you reading this blog on your mobile phone? When the telephone was first created in 1876, it required a physical wire to connect to the network. It took almost 100 years for the cordless phone to be created. The first commercially available mobile phone came only a few years later, commercially available in 1983. The mobile was not an evolutionary step, it was a radical change from electrical signals by physical wire to radio signals by satellite. This is a tremendous design shift.
Let’s take another wonderful innovation, the car. The first cars were designed to be driven by a human. Researching progress made over time, it's interesting that the numbers hold true again for a major transformation. In this case, it took slightly more than 100 years for driver assisted systems to be available. Now, a decade or two later, we're getting closer to cars that safely drive themselves. We could say that driverless cars are an evolutionary step, but they require an entirely different design and way of thinking. Another tremendous shift.
What may be happening now is a fundamental shift in the way we develop, design and lead organisations. Researchers estimate that the command-and-control model started approximately 3,000 years ago. There are records showing that "organisations" began to exist nearly 1,500 years ago. In slightly more recent times, publicly traded companies have existed for 400 years, even though the first stock exchange is less than 250 years old.
Modern day thought leaders and networks are discussing the concept of organisation design and ‘how work gets done’, such as Frederic Laloux and his evolutionary teal concept of organisations. Many emergent disciplines are beginning to overlap, merge and form partnerships. Most organisations are facing external pressures to keep up with the speed of change, pressures including customer needs, wants and desires that change and propel at the speed of conversation. Internally, most organisations face longstanding challenges with employee satisfaction, career progression and speed of decision making. The report Global firms in 2020: The next decade of change fororganisations and workers from the Economist Intelligence Unit highlights many of these internal challenges. It is becoming more important to design organisations that can develop, make sense of situations, and execute decisions and plans that fit with the changing environment.
Modern mind-sets, behaviours, processes and technology offer a new way of working. As opposed to evolutionary progress, some organisations are experimenting with a fundamentally different design. William Gibson has been quoted to say "the future is already here, it's just not evenly distributed".
Collaboration is ubiquitous and ever improving, yet the exam question remains "how will the highest performing organisations keep up with the increasing rate of change?"
The convergence of many experiments across many disciplines unveils six core approaches. These approaches are:
- Communities of practice
- Talent or knowledge markets
- Organisational network analysis
- Work out loud and personal knowledge management
- Knowledge transfer
- Expertise location
These approaches seem to signify a shift toward emergent leadership and employee-led initiative. These approaches seem to enable a flow of information, and more importantly, a rapid flow of knowledge, that has rarely been consciously practiced before. Especially at macro levels, it might be possible for organisational wisdom and collective intelligence to be co-created, shared and implemented at a phenomenal pace. The aforementioned approaches are not the only ones. Further, these approaches are likely to blend and adapt over time as well.
The pendulums of centralisation, decentralisation, expert specialist and top line bottom line may still swing, but new plateaus of employee engagement and customer delight may become the norm. Come join us with a new RSA Fellows network dedicated to exploring developing organisational forms including distributed leadership, a focus on purpose and an invitation to wholeness at work. The first event is being hosted on the 7th October.