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Using ambiguity, complexity and effective communication to stop organisational meltdown
From Robert J Toogood, Senior Partner – Chaordic Solutions:
When the world changes faster than people are able to adapt to it then this is when something called chaotic change can take over … and if left unmanaged, can result in organisational meltdown and ultimately, failure. However, whilst this form of chaos brings uneasiness, it can also be used as a powerful catalyst for creativity and growth.
Several years ago, we started to research one aspect of how change occurs within nature and similarities with what happens within organisations.
You may already know that at the very centre of growth within the natural world is something called the Helix of Life aka DNA. It is a complicated structure … consisting of two long chains of molecular building blocks called nucleotides, twisted into a double helix and joined by things called hydrogen bonds.
If we use this analogy for describing chaotic change, then one long chain of the double helix could represent ambiguity and the other complexity, with effective communication as the equivalent of the hydrogen bonds that keep the structure together … the Helix of Change™.
In the natural world, when allowed to operate healthily, all is well and the life form is able to survive. However, if the hydrogen bonds fail or get damaged, the organism dies.
So it is in organisations … effective communication is essential for our survival and if this fails, then ambiguity and complexity get out of control resulting in chaotic change which if left unmanaged, can result in organisational meltdown and ultimately, failure.
The American writer Henry Adams (1838-1918) once said that “Chaos often breeds life, when order breeds habit”. So for some time now, a degree of chaos within an organisation has been recognised as potentially healthy and possibly, even desirable.
Indeed, chaos can sometimes develop as a result of management’s own attempts to use creative tension within the organisation to create a shared vision as advocated many years ago by Peter Senge in The Fifth Discipline. “A shared vision provides a compass to keep learning on course when stress develops”, Senge says. In addition, “The gap between vision and current reality is also a source of energy. If there were no gap, there would be no need for any action to move towards the vision”. The gap created is referred to creative tension and it is this, which can create a degree of positive chaos on a temporary basis whilst order is being restored and directed towards achieving the shared vision.
Over the coming months, we will share our research activities into better understanding the important relationship between ambiguity, complexity, effective communication …. and organisational culture; our specific focus is on exploring how these factors can be used to positively influence critical activities like governance, risk and compliance … by winning those “hearts and minds” that are so important for making sure the right things happen, at the right time and in the right place!
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