Flexible Structure


“Stay committed to your decisions, but stay flexible in your approach.”
Tom Robbins

“The structure of a system reflects the structure of the organization that built it”
Richard E. Fairley, Wang Institute

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Points to ponder — Do you see a different viewpoint in the picture above after looking at it a while? If you do not, but show it to someone else and they do, are you willing to embrace the possibility that there may be more than one way to view the picture? A different perspective if you will. Are you willing and able to do the same as you lead your business or department? Do you think your leadership style is flexible? That it’s open to considering and allowing different perspectives? Do others?

Merriam-Webster defines flexible as “characterized by a ready capability to adapt to new, different, or changing requirements”. The Oxford Dictionaries define it as “willingness to change or compromise”. Structure is defined as “something arranged in a definite pattern of organization” and as “the arrangement of and relations between the parts or elements of something complex” by Merriam-Webster and Oxford respectively.

Given the above definitions, does your leadership style provide structure but exhibit flexibility and by extension does your department or business?

Process vs. Outcome

When you set goals for your team what is most important to you, how they reach those goals or whether those goals are achieved? Is it “My way or the highway” or do you give the employees that work and/or report to you opportunities to try new ways to do things? Do you take the phrase “Failure is not an option” literally or do you accept the value of the opportunity to learn that comes with making a mistake or when things don’t go according to plan?

If you find yourself focused on controlling process, consider giving your folks the authority to implement new and different ways of doing their jobs or meeting their goals when they feel it’s worth the risk. While providing this flexible structure, set the expectation that they will take responsibility for the outcome(s) as well. Your employees will appreciate the trust and confidence you display in them when you do so and you’ll find they’re more likely to take a vested interest in achieving their goals. They may also begin to be more innovative.

Does “By the Numbers” Always Yield the Best Results?

Innovation doesn’t occur unless it’s allowed. For employees to be innovative they need to feel free to take risks and make mistakes. As a leader, you must be comfortable with the fact that the people who work for you will make mistakes. Their mistakes are less important in the overall scheme of things; however, that an individual or team have the opportunity to learn from their mistakes is very important.

So what is the takeaway? Innovation requires risk which means the possibility of mistakes that can lead to learning something valuable and often new. Providing a flexible structure sets expectations but leaves room for folks to try something different from time to time. Increased employee engagement is a result. If you find the phrases “I’m the boss” or “We’ve always done it that way” are still part of your vocabulary, you’re missing the point.

So what is the point? If you’ve spent time building a gifted talent pool why not let your team swim to the deep end and show you what they are capable of?

Here to serve,

John Duba

Next month: Rules of Engagement

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