Recent research at the University of California has shown that some weather extremes simply lie beyond standard (Gaussian) distribution. One of the conclusions of this research is that certain geographic factors must be included in the statistical assumptions and models that we use to predict weather. In the longer term it is very difficult to predict climate change. Where we were convinced by climatologists end of last century that the ice is very quickly disappearing from the earth’s surface, other experts tell us now that Asian glaciers are melting at a slower rate than expected and the icecaps are declining less rapidly than predicted. The reason behind these changing perceptions is that weather is influenced by so many parameters that it is simply too complex to predict its behavior exactly. Not only in the long, but also in the short term. For that reason climate is called a chaotic system, i.e. an extremely complex system in which order is very difficult to recognize, but there is certainly order!
Like climate, organizations can be characterized as chaotic systems. They are very complex networks of people whose behavior cannot be predicted easily – let alone be directed in any desired direction – but whose collective behavior has a major impact on business results. While in the past organizations were almost exclusively driven via changes in structure and processes, leaders realize more and more that this does not always lead to the desired and predicted results. Employees do not usually become more entrepreneurial or innovative when they receive bonuses and rewards when they show corresponding behavior, but because they are encouraged and stimulated to take initiative, to come up with ideas and collaborate more effectively and actively with others. Stimulating core patterns, i.e. individual behavioral patterns, is part of chaordic thinking.
In the 1960’s meteorologists embraced chaordic thinking as a better basis for their predictions. Thirty years later, these ideas were translated into a team dynamics model where a number of meteorological factors were translated into team dynamics parameters. One of these parameters is to have a very clear, inspiring goal were everyone in the organization can relate to. It is also important that all members within the organization are connected with each other. A third parameter is to have a dialogue culture rather than a culture of debate.
If one can predict organizational behavior more accurately, and thus better understand its nature based on these before mentioned parameters, one can actually use these parameters proactively to guide the organization in a more effective way. Leading an organization based on these parameters is no rocket science, although there are not many companies that actively use these parameters to guide their organization. The reason behind this is that for many of us it is difficult to translate these parameters into hard business indicators.
It is worth to make this translation, which Chaos2Work has done in close cooperation with a number of companies. Based on thorough organizational analysis, we determined the organizational profile. One of these companies scored low on discipline and engagement. Therefore we actively directed people’s behavior in these two areas. One could strengthen discipline in an organization by increasing process and procedural focus. Based on earlier conclusions in this article this will not often directly lead to the desired and predicted results. Therefore, we chose to focus on behavior and culture. We have given staff members a better framework in which they felt more confident to take their own decisions. To achieve this framework, management clearly stated company goal and priorities and communicated these goals and priorities, together with corresponding decisions on a more regular basis throughout the organization.
We increased employee engagement by strengthened the connectedness between the teams and individuals, for example by combining a number of module-based projects into one program that focused on creating the end-product. In one small step a larger team of employees felt directly connected to the end result. From this reinforced team spirit the group cooperated more effectively and addressed and resolved problems more quickly. As a result, the final product greatly improved. The feedback we got from the team was very positive. One team member said after one of the team meetings: “This is the first time that it feels like working in a real team, which is great”.
One of the results of this approach was that the average project slip was reduced from 10% to less than 7.5%, which lowered average project cost from € 850,000 to € 600,000 per year.
Like climate and economy, organizations are chaotic systems which behavior is very difficult to predict. Controlling or directing such systems therefore requires the use of similar complex models. Companies that adopt and actively use these complex models will differentiate from companies that purely focus on structure and processes to achieve their goals. Those who are able to link complex behavioral patterns within their organization to business-critical process indicators will simply get more out of their people. They will succeed in realizing complex organizational dynamics that are self-sustaining and are essential in achieving a decisive competitive advantage. They are the ones that find the solution in their people.