Everyone and everything is connected

The world has become a vast network in which immediately accessible and shareable information rewrite the future at the same pace in which it can be understood. Driven by tireless technological innovation, this accelerating connectivity has led to ever faster change, making it increasingly difficult to predict the future.

Yet most companies rely on a way of working that was designed over 100 years ago to meet the challenges and opportunities of the industrial age.

The tension between organizations optimized for predictability and the unpredictable world in which they live has reached a critical point.

Companies struggle to keep pace with their customers. Workers trapped between dissatisfied customers and uninspired executives are disillusioned and disoriented. Executives caught between dissatisfied investors and disruptive competitors are struggling to find new ways.

We need a new way

Responsive organisations are designed to learn and react quickly through the open flow of information, to promote experimentation and learning in rapid cycles and to organise themselves as a network of employees, customers and partners motivated by common goals. The “responsive org manifesto” formulates the basic principles of new organizational models. In contrast to classical hierarchical structures, these are adapted to a dynamic environment, which is often described by the acronym “VUCA” (volatility, uncertainty, complexity, ambiguity).

New organisation models for today’s challenges

The term responsive organisation, in the sense of “responding organisation”, can be understood as a generic term for organisational models that concentrate on building significantly more reactive structures than conventional organisational forms in a digitised, globalised, dynamic and unpredictable corporate environment. Very different “operating systems” can be used in a responsive organisation. These include holocratic or sociocratic forms of organisation, cell organisation, forms of network organisation and, for example, organisations that use agile methods such as scrum.

Wrong solutions: Structural change will fail if the focus is not on individuals

Anyone who tries to create agile structures and processes without thinking about people and their strengths, potentials and socialisation will very likely fail due to an organisational change process. The principles of responsive organisations cannot simply be imposed on a company. The same challenges also apply to sociocratic, holocratic or cell models. They offer – certainly exciting and helpful – answers to the rather abstract structure of an organisation, to the operating system, without, however, thinking about people, relationships, corporate cultures and organisational identity.

Adaptive structures – the REFLECT model

One possibility of implementing a responsive organisation is offered by the REFLECT organisational model (see Kallenbach 2016, Fig.3). It summarises the findings of earlier organisational concepts and extends them.

The organisation in circles and roles can also be found in the holacracy model and makes sense in order to decentralise companies and strengthen self-organisation.
The concept of a central platform comes from the “Podular Organisation” from the book “The Connected Company”. Teh head office provides support services, knowledge transfer and administrative activities to enable the peripheral teams to focus on the customer.
The networking of the circles among themselves and with the platform resembles the structure of a network organisation. The continuous exchange of knowledge is essential to quickly exchange knowledge about the market and customers, new ideas and results and to facilitate organisational learning.

This structural model integrates valuable properties of different organisational designs and thus creates synergies. By involving stakeholders, such as customers and partners, the internal and external relationships can be clearly displayed.

Adaptivity is deliberately integrated into the REFLECT model of the Healthy Organisation. A healthy organisation is always responsive in this sense, but not every responsive organisation has to be healthy.

Examples for responsive organisations

Buurtzorg in the Netherlands is a care service organisation. Originally this company was very rigid (statically and strictly) organized. Due to internal dissatisfaction, the employees sat down with the desire to do something different. Meanwhile they are decentralized and have placed the sense of the company in the center, which they derive from the needs of their customers. The employees are highly motivated to fulfil this sense – and not the previous rigid regulations – and to do a good job. The company is prospering and 70-80% of all nursing staff (in the Netherlands) are now organised at Buurtzorg. So far they have been very successful and very responsive.

Another example that comes close to a responsive organization is the dm drugstore chain. This is decentralised, a great deal of information is transparent and the entire organisation is geared towards the customer. The employees have a lot of personal responsibility. You can react quickly to market requirements independently and without asking other decision-makers.

Watch the video of Erich Harsch, CEO of dm. In his presentation at a REFLECT customer event, he addressed the principles of freedom, responsibility and decision making, which decisively determine the actions of dm and enable employees to make appropriate, situational and individual decisions without having to consult a manager beforehand.