Situationally Adaptive Organizations for 21st Century Transformation and Thriving

In the rapidly changing, globalized social, political and economic landscape of the 21st century, it is critical that organizations be agile, adaptable and resilient in order to thrive. The calcified, bureaucratic, left-brain, profit-at-all-costs, destructive model of the 20th century industrial age must transform to meet the demands of the interconnected, whole-brain, transparent, socially-responsible and sustainable 21st century information age.

While there has been significant exploration of, and lip service given to, organizational change, eco-social responsibility and systemic evolution, the dinosaur corporations of the 20th century have done little more than put lipstick on the pig.

Despite clear evidence of corporate dysfunction and practices leading to eco-systemtic toxicity and destruction as well as social injustice, CEOs making over 350 times more than the average worker and receiving bonuses based upon profits, don't have great impetus to change the organizational structure that provides them with great personal benefit. Other impediments to change are fear of the unknown, the perceived need to predict financial performance and mitigate risk, as well as a lack of organizational innovation.

Our society has become enamored with safety, security, predictability and standardization. This cultural meme has led to the adoption of the standardized hierarchical organizational model characterized by a monolithic rigid structure, bureaucratic and disempowering processes, risk management, ineffective communication and myopic solutions.

Using a single form of organizational structure for all circumstances is much like using a single tool for all situations. If the only tool we know is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail -- When presented with a tomato, we hit with our hammer, when presented with a screw, we hit it with our hammer. If only we had a knife for the tomato and a screwdriver for the screw, we would be much more efficient and effective.

Like using a single tool for everything, most organizations seem to expect that nature and living -- evolving systems (e.g. the universe, planet and people) will somehow neatly fit into a non-adaptable, rigid, myopic corporate structure. As a result of this mindset and practice, we ineffectively attempt to fight against, and manage the risks of, nature and living-evolving systems rather than co-creating with them.

To achieve optimal effectiveness, it is critical that we co-create with, and be adaptable to, nature and living-evolving systems. This requires a biomimetic/whole systems approach that increases agility, adaptability and resiliency of an organization. This entails allowing function to dictate form, having a tool chest of adaptable tools and using the right tool under the right circumstance.

"Situationally Adaptive Organizations" ("SAOs") are adaptable, multi-structured hybrids that provide an organizational tool chest, rather than a single tool, so that the most appropriate organizational structure and resource can be optimally applied in response to rapidly changing and varied situations.

Rather than a rigid inefficient and dysfunctional form that requires all circumstances to be handled within the constraints of the form, SAOs shift form (e.g. governance, leadership, organizational structure) to optimize solutions and effectiveness. The SAO organizational structure is also adaptable, evolutionary and mutable allowing for shift of structure to optimize results based upon circumstances such as urgency, importance, specialization, economics, information flows and security.

The characteristics of SAOs are as follows:

  • Organizational structure follows function rather than form
  • Multiple natural adaptable and changeable structures
  • Applied whole systems approaches to define circumstantial organizational shifts for optimal results
  • Honoring and balancing the needs of stakeholders (e.g. customers, shareholders, employees, business relations, supply, chain, society, planet)
  • Principles and agreements are elevated over rules and processes
  • Empowered decision making with authority equal to responsibility
  • Minimal formalization of behavior
  • Personal development and growth -- people are led and processes are managed
  • Individual contributions and empowerment are respected
  • Job specialization based on experience and abilities
  • Cross-sector teams, communication and participation
  • Procedures are guidelines that are open to evolution, interpretation and individual approaches, subject to objective quality and production measurements
  • Roles are defined but can shift anytime with a minimum of hierarchical involvement upon agreement of the team members
  • Leverages decentralized, networked and connected efficiencies
  • Networked transparent and direct communication
  • Culture based on productive non-bureaucratic work rather than layers of non-productive middle management
  • Solutions and productive empowerment over blame
  • Cooperation over competition
  • High transparency and integrity coupled with compassionate and equanimous communication
  • Abundance consciousness and culture
  • Objectively defined milestones and commitments with great flexibility as to the style and method by which they are achieved
  • Consistent real time monitoring and feedback
  • Rapid and optimal responsiveness
  • Shared responsibility and reliability
  • Flexible, resilient, adaptable and evolving
  • Whole, healthy & human workplace and culture

Using the SAO model exponentially increases the effectiveness of an organization by optimizing situational responsiveness with less time, effort and energy while also obtaining improved and more holistic results (e.g. increased profits, customer loyalty, brand equity, social responsibility and sustainability) that will allow organizations to thrive in the 21st century.