This article is part of a series titled A brief History Of The Organization

Can you hear the star wars music playing in the background? I can...

The Age of Uncertainty requires a radically different approach than the Age of Industry

Doing it this way always worked before, right?

If you need to move a lot of people across the ocean, use a cruise liner. It's efficient and cost effective.

But don't use a cruise liner to navigate inland, especially into uncharted waters.

You will hit an obstacle.

You will get stuck.

If you are lucky, you may be able to change course, eventually.

But you may capsize, instead.

Either way you will harm the boat, and more importantly, cause harm to the people in the boat.

Disoriented Edge New Media by Jeff Iverson | Saatchi Art
Why am I so confused...

Likewise trying to navigate an environment of complexity and uncertainty with an industrial organization is a recipe for failure.

You will respond to slowly.

You will lose market share.

If you are lucky, you may navigate through the chaos, with huge effort.

But you may go out of business instead.

Again, in either case, you will cause unnecessary strife to your workers, your leaders, and your customers in the attempt.

A Human Organization Does Not Remotely Resemble An Industrial Organization

Given our current age does not resemble the Industrial age, you would think it should be obvious that a drastically different kind of organization is needed.

You would think. But most organizations are still run like industrial era machines. The majority of organizational leaders and their teams are operating in a very uncomfortable world where they are constantly fighting their management systems and org structures to deliver value. The mindset, skills, and the will to move to a new way of organizing seems to be in short supply.  

But this is changing, we now have examples of real organizations operating under a new type of organization. With the people once again in ascendancy in the value creation process, many are calling this new the human organization. An organization that runs with human oriented principles it's very core. Management thinking is increasingly talking about how this human organization can adopted in your workplace. Increasingly other, more traditional organizations are starting down the journey of becoming more human centric, organizing forward if you will.

A Human Organization is based on the idea that we decentralize authority into teams responsible doing the work.

We often group these people into teams that have all the skills and permission they need to operate with autonomy required to own market outcomes.  

Instead of relying on one size fits all standards, teams continuously iterate and improved based on frequent market feedback.  

A human organizations operating metaphor is no longer the cooperate hierarchy, rather we think of people and teams being part of a dynamic value network that flexes based on changes in the market.

Well that Sounds Like A Great Way To Invite More Chaos Into My Life

If you are positional leader you may be skeptical, very skeptical that this could work. Invite disaster, is more likely you may be thinking.

Well, I'm out of a job...

Your organization lacks alignment. You don't have confidence that your people are capable of self-organization, or you can't trust them to do the right thing. You anticipate a lack of control over outcomes. A lack of ownership. You fear failure.  These are the things that may run through the conscious (or subconscious) mind of your typical executive.

And rightly so. The truth of the matter is moving to a more human centric organization is not done lightly.

It requires work. Work from your positional leaders, and work from every person across your entire organization. New practices and processes can illuminate parts of the path, but this is really about a shift in mindset, and that takes time.

The good news is we have plenty of examples out there to draw inspiration from. Your path will be unique to you, but that doesn't mean you can't learn from others.

The other good news is that this new way of thinking and working already exists in your organization, if it didn't you wouldn't already be providing value in a complex world.

The problem is that human-value-creation parts of your organization are often underground, and work in-spite of your management structure, not because of it. It is at odds with the "official" part of your organization.  

Just like many pundits believe that communism in Russia lasted so long because of a vibrant black market that kept goods flowing across market participants. In the same vein, your organization is functioning because you already have a value network of self organizing knowledge workers, you just need to uncover it and make it official.

Up Next: The Benefits, and More Importantly the Limitations Of This Thing We Call Agile

In Summary

  • An industrial organization is not suited to navigate in an era of VUCA
  • A human organization is based on decentralizing decision making to teams that  have the autonomy to own outcomes through frequent market feedback
  • Moving towards a more human organization requires a new mindset and practices that allow us to promote trust, give up control, grant ownership, and overcome our fear of failure.
  • This human organization already exists where you work, you just need to make if official, and make it core your organizational operating system