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  • Kevin Hard

Why are so many organisations dysfunctional? - Nigel Girling

- The case for integrated & diverse thinking -

For a century, it’s been viewed as ‘normal’ for organisations of every type to be based on a pyramid of hierarchy and segmented disciplines and ‘tribes’ with specific areas of responsibility and specialism. Similarly, we’ve long felt the need to establish control and consistency, where people are expected to comply with rules, procedures and process.

There’s just one problem with all that thinking: it doesn’t really work anymore.

In many fields or many of our rapidly-shifting economies, organisations and sectors our very way of operating is threatening our survival.

When these ideas of structure and approach were first established, the world was a very different place. In those days, ‘technology’ meant pens that had ink cartridges rather than a quill being dipped into an inkwell or factories that had mechanical machinery instead of simply human hard toil. The working population were often poorly educated and the social construct of countries like the UK was based on class, where a small section ‘ruled’ the working classes and those workers largely followed orders and were glad to have enough money for a roof over their heads and food on the table. The goal of compliance assumed that those ‘above’ new best and that their ‘workers’ needed to be carefully controlled to ensure they did their work efficiently and in line with requirements.

We don’t live there anymore.

Tomorrow’s organisation needs speed, ideas, innovation and agility in the face of growing complexity and rapid change – and those old ways largely prevent all of that.

Equally, our habit of dividing into specialist tribes often creates unhealthy rivalry, disconnection, lack of communication and very few opportunities for mutually supportive or collaborative activity. We set individual goals and targets that encourage self-interest, we specialise in ever smaller niches of arcane knowledge which keep people separate and often make them unable to see each other’s point of view – and competing for resources and success at the expense of ‘rival’ tribes.

At the top, we assemble the leaders of those tribes, call them a leadership ‘team’ and expect them somehow to make decisions wisely, in a balanced way and for the greater good.

So back to the question: why are organisations dysfunctional?

Because we’ve designed them that way. It’s time for a change.


For a deeper delve into this watch Nigel's lunchtime webinar:

Nigel also covered a quick overview of this at our Leadership Summit in December 2020:




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