If you want to understand scaling… (part 2 of 2)

If you want to understand scaling:

  1. Start with what must be true at each scale of organisation (part 1)
  2. Then with what happens between scales (this post)

Where we got to last time (and from there to what a healthy relationship with the process frameworks looks like):

  • A structure that makes sense – not just tidy on paper, but purposeful at every scale – allowing each unit at every scale to self-manage effectively (structuring itself to minimise dependencies, for example)
  • Each unit at every scale able to express its own strategy in its own words, in terms appropriate to its domain and its customers, aligning it with other units and other scales according to both structure and opportunity
  • Each unit at every scale able to identify what it must manage at that scale – no more and no less – with protocols to deal with what should be managed elsewhere

We reached those conclusions via a route that made it very obvious that each of them apply at every scale, and that the consequences can be serious if there’s a problem with any of them. But it doesn’t stop there. Whilst it’s possible for a scale to be badly designed in its own right – awkward structure, missing capabilities, or poor coordination to name but a few – it’s not hard to see that the relationships between scales are no less important. If anything, they’re more troubling.

Consider these:

  • One unit doing the coordination work of another – micromanaging, or interfering in other ways
  • One unit doing the strategy work of another – imposing it downwards (directly, via an overly-top-down or centralised plan), second-guessing upwards, etc
  • Units taking on responsibility for outcomes over which they have insufficient control
  • Units providing insufficient transparency about strategy, progress, or risks for related others to make good decisions
  • Units failing to share useful intelligence
  • Or conversely, units not listening (or worse, punishing unwelcome news)

These describe dysfunctional relationships even when they’re between peers, but when there’s any kind of power imbalance involved, those at the receiving end may feel powerless to fix them.

The Deliberately Adaptive Organisation

Let’s recast those challenging but still fixable problems more positively, as principles. These are table stakes I believe for any serious approach to scaling. With minor caveats they apply to every identifiable scope or scale:

  1. Each responsible for its own strategy and accountable for its own performance
  2. Respectful of the autonomy of others, each responsible for its next level of internal structure and its self-management across it
  3. Each committed to building mutual trust in every direction

Choosing its models carefully to maintain that “at every scope or scale” vibe, the Deliberately Adaptive Organisation (deliberately-adaptive.org) integrates the following:

  • From Agendashift: rapid strategy development and alignment between scopes and scales through generative conversations, multi-level participation, and outcome-orientation
  • From Lean and Agile, patterns for collaboration and coordination, and the deep integration of delivery and learning
  • From Sociocracy (known to some as dynamic governance and to Akoff fans as circular hierarchy), consent and purpose as the basis for effective self-organisation and governance
  • From the Deliberately Developmental Organisation (as described in An Everyone Culture by developmental psychologists Robert Kegan and Lisa Laskow-Lahey), attention to the human side of development

What holds it all together is one of the crowning achievements of Systems Thinking, Stafford Beer’s Viable System Model (VSM), perhaps the most powerfully “at every scale” organisational model in existence. We take the management consultant’s Swiss Army knife and give it some 21st-century attitude in an innovative and accessible presentation.

Given that most of the popular approaches to scaling focus mainly on process, it is important for me to stress that the Deliberately Adaptive Organisation is not a process framework. Neither is it prescriptive. Instead, it is two kinds of model in one:

  1. Diagnostic, but only in the everyday sense that it helps with the identification of dysfunctions and opportunities (building on strengths as well as mitigating weaknesses), not in the sense that those dysfunctions become the excuse for heavy-handed prescription
  2. Generative in the sense that it helps organisations engage constructively with themselves, generate a wealth of ideas, and find their own way forward

If you know Agendashift (mostly generative, with the diagnostic part done generatively), you will recognise that winning combination. In fact, the Deliberately Adaptive Organisation is introduced in the closing chapters of the Agendashift 2nd edition (2021), my previous book Right to Left (2020) doing some of the setup.

And development continues. After I release this month the final instalment of Outside-in Strategy: Positioned for success, production work begins on Adaptive Organisation: Business agility at every scale, the fourth and last module in the Agendashift Academy’s Leading with Outcomes curriculum. Then sometime next year I hope, a book (my fifth – I have a fourth book close to completion, more on that another time).

As that roadmap indicates, the earliest access to the next iteration of the Deliberately Adaptive Organisation will be via the Academy, and you can be part of it. Join one of our regular Ask Me Anything sessions and even before the content is released I’ll be only too happy to explore it with you. Subscribe now:

If you want to understand scaling:

  1. Start with what must be true at each scale of organisation (part 1)
  2. Then with what happens between scales (this post)

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