Change Uncovered – embrace the informal organisation

The capability to change

Permanent change is like daily food:  you simply can’t do without it. But there’s a difference. Food you just have to eat. But we need to manage change, don’t  we ?
No. This is not one of the so many blogs on change management, I wouldn’t dare…  But I dare to state that our managers have – kind of – “had” it with change. And certainly with their objectives to manage it.

But then what ? We can’t just “hope” or “trust” things will turn all right, can we ? Surely not. A lot of managers are “control freaks” by nature.  (That’s maybe why they became managers in the first place ?) So, also change will be managed, controlled, followed up, fine tuned, coordinated, visualised, and last but not least “measured”… as if it were like any other kind of target to achieve.
And that is where it goes wrong. That’s why we’ve had it with change. In most cases it’s not necessarily the change itself that is bothering us. It is our own incapability of dealing with it.
Double change
If managing the way we all know it is not the way to do it, then what is ? Is this the moment for bringing in some other old concepts like dealing with complexity, letting go, coach the organisation through change rather than manage the change, etc… ?
I don’t know.
But a clear observation I’ve made several times is that managers wishing to realise their change objectives, often start from the perspective of the actual team,  systems, processes, boards, measurements, structures and organisation. We seem to think or believe that our actual – call it – “working world” is capable of realising change, making use of it’s actual ways of working. We seem to forget that our actual working world, while trying to do its very best to realise change projects, is going through change itself as well.
So we have to manage two changes ? The change project that is on our plate and the change the team, systems, processes, boards, measurements, structures and organization are going through themselves  ? Can we have a break please ?
Yes we can.
Chaos Lovers
And how? By just letting go. He or she who is not capable of letting go and of tempering the control freak inside of him or her will get seriously stuck sooner or later. Things have simply become too complicated. We are kindly invited to become chaos lovers.

Manhole by Maurizio Catalan

But chaos does not mean chaos. It means that we need to find a way between controlling the progress made – the old way – and supporting the progress to be made, in new ways. It means understanding and allowing things “to happen”. This includes things that from a purely rational perspective shouldn’t even have to happen to realise a target. But they happen anyway because people are allowed to make them happen, because they want to and most important because they see that – at that moment – it is the only way to get things done quickly. Following the normal way being too complicated because not yet adapted to the change their world is going through.
Formal vs informal
This is a typical moment where the formal versus informal organization are being introduced. You can compare a more organic view of organisation to the jazz orchestra. But it’s not realistic to expect people not tow worry about the change project. Or to assume that spontaneous collaboration, generated in an organic way, will do the job where we as managers fail, just because people are truly motivated. Period.
Spontaneous collaboration won’t do the change job, certainly not alone on itself, but it can make the difference, if embraced.
Embrace spontaneous collaboration
And here is one more challenge. What are ways to embrace the informal organization, to embrace the fact that it can get things done where the formal one is getting stuck, certainly when it comes to realizing change ?
Of course we can design the informal organisation and compare it with the formal one (although that can be confronting for certain people, e.g. in a management team). But when it comes to its actual, concrete performance in the realisation of a change project, it is not so easy to – here we go – “measure” that, is it ?
Everybody will know and perhaps talk about it. Very few people will add “informal contacts that may come up with something” as stakeholder to the project. Very helpful but politically a little bit delicate ? Nobody likes to see the formal organogram getting passed by. It’s difficult to acknowledge t that precisely that dynamic has made the change a success.
Unless…. we allow the formal world to truly embrace the informal one and visa versa, and let them collaborate, rather than going undercover for each other.
Let that be the key suggestion of this blog. And of course embracing non rational things is more a matter of our heart than our head.

“I can feel the discomfort in your seat and in your head it’s worse. There’s a pain, a famine in your heart. An aching to be free”
Depeche Mode, 1990, Violator, Halo

Both, head and heart should feel comfortable in allowing each other to do their jobs. Only then, managers can become successful, happy and freed performers (in change management) again !
I wish you a grand 2014, full of changes and letting go 😉

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