The fluid organization: 5 lessons from the trenches

2017. Exactly 20 years after the foundation of Möbius, Hendrik Vanmaele, CEO of Möbius, issued the new rules of play to structure our work and run our organization. As management consultancy in many domains and pioneer in supporting organization on paths to innovative labor organizations, this time, we become our own client. We successfully submit a subsidy dossier to ESF (European Social Fund) in order to be able to invest sufficient time and means in the optimization of our different way of organizing. With this support, we start a well thought-out transformation program in the fall of 2017.
Kim Oostvogels

 

2019. The transformation program is completed. Time to assess our current situation and draw some lessons. Here is our top five.

Lesson 1: It ain’t over till it’s over

A fluid organization is continuously in motion. Just like a living organism she grows along with the people and work that present themselves. And the organizational structure of Möbius has been moving since 2017. Big changes don’t seem to be necessary anymore. Throughout the organization different roles on different levels introduce continuous improvements to the structure. So now ‘continuous improvement’ on the structures as well. The program might be completed, but the transformation and guidance is going to keep on running.

Lesson 2: Turtles (or purpose) all the way down

A ‘purpose discovery’-session was just recently behind us when we started the transformation program. It’s quite clear what binds and drives us: we want to make a positive social contribution, realize breakthroughs through pioneer work, inspire extra-ordinary people to reach extra-ordinary results and build bridges between people and organizations. But what does that mean for the various teams? What does it mean for every individual employee? How do my motives attune to those of the organization? We noticed that ‘purpose’ has become an important topic to talk about around the coffee table and during formal, periodic, orientation moments. We have developed several rituals like ‘purpose pitching’ and ‘purpose discovery workshops’, and we even have a role titled ‘purpose guardian’ which is filled by several people. In an organization who chose self-steering, you had better make sure you have engaged employees. ‘Purpose’ is one of the ingredients that add to this.

Lesson 3: it’s personal

Our organization is an amalgamation of people with different types of baggage and experience. Choosing a fluid organizational structure is also choosing for continuous personal growth of all employees. A ‘growth mindset’, where everyone hungry for knowledge and skill takes responsibility for personal growth; that is the core of our organizational structure.

  • The new rules of play, meeting skills and collaboration technologies (i.e. the online dynamic organization chart) are the basis.
  • In addition, there are various competencies that may be acquired and sharpened in order to go through life in a fluid organization. For example; time management, defining borders, create support or solve conflicts.
  • The biggest challenge is that damned mirror. “If things don’t go the way you want them to, what’s stopping you from doing something about it?” Working in a fluid, self-steering organization requires the development of new attitudes.

Lesson 4: Standardize (a little)

During meetings you sometimes hear “don’t we need to make some arrangements about that?” Because our structure gives the mandate to the teams (actually they are circles, but that would lead us too far) to organize themselves, it’s possible that similar teams handle similar challenges completely differently. This area of tension is characteristic to innovative labor organizations. If you want to leave enough ‘self-regulating space’, you have to be careful as not to inadvertently restrict this regulating space with procedures and ICT-applications. On the other hand, there’s nothing wrong with deploying good and best practices where useful, in that solution area where the correlation between cause and effect is clear (i.e. the Cynefin-model). There’s no doubt that in a fluid, self-steering organization communication is the fuel used to learn from and with each other and to work together.

Lesson 5: Every model is wrong, some are useful

At Möbius we chose Holacracy to give our organization more structure. It’s one way to bring a fluid, self-steering organization into practice, with its benefits and shortcomings. By now we’re also using patterns from Sociocracy 3.0 in order to make our organization more adaptable. We use the Shingo framework to work through ideal behavior on a culture to excel in. We use lean to optimize our processes. Organizations that dogmatically swear by one model, are missing a whole lot of opportunities.

Furthermore, it’s quite a utopic way of thinking that the way you organize is the solution to everything. ‘If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.’ Aside from our fluid organizational structure we keep investing in many other topics like sales training, stress workshops, individual coaching, team coaching, durability, welfare…

 

So, 5 tips to build your innovative, fluid organization:

  1. Strive for continuous improvement of your structures.
  2. Make your collective motive ‘purpose’ an ongoing theme.
  3. Support the personal development of all employees
  4. Use just the perfect amount (not too much, and not too little) of standards.
  5. Take advantage of the riches of the various modern models, toolboxes and trends.

 

Want to know more? Contact our experts Nathalie Vermassen or Kim Oostvogels.

 

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