It may be the best way to improve your organisation’s performance.
Control: It’s the essence of management. We’re trained to measure inputs, throughputs, and outputs in hopes of increasing efficiency and producing desired results. In a world of linear processes, such as in the factories of the Industrial Age, that made sense. But in today’s knowledge economy, where enterprises are complex, adaptive systems, it’s counterproductive.
The real problem is confusion between control and order. Control implies centralized control and hierarchical relationships. The person with control tells others what to do and whether they are successful or not. Order, on the other hand, emerges from self-organization. There may not be anyone telling others what to do, yet things get done—often with great efficiency and effectiveness. People know what is expected of them and what they can expect of others.
But how can this be true? Mustn’t an orchestra have a conductor? A dance troupe, a choreographer? A company, a CEO?
Not necessarily. Nature abounds with examples of what is known as swarm intelligence. Termites build intricate dwellings without the benefit of set of plans or engineers with advanced degrees. Birds migrate thousands of miles in formations where the lead position rotates to optimize their collective capacity. There are no marching orders or hierarchies dictating who leads. Massive flocks of starlings engage in intricate maneuvers known as murmuration with neither collisions nor confusion. There is order without overarching control. Indeed, our obsession with control helps explain why human-designed organizations fail to achieve such beautiful synchronicity.
Swarm intelligence was first described by Gerardo Beni and Jing Wang in 1989 in the context of cellular robotic systems. It relies on rigid adherence to simple rules about how immediate neighbors in a group relate to each other: If you do this, I do that.
The leaders of an enterprise need to identify the few core rules—thoughtfully developed and rigorously tested—that set the stage for success and mitigate the risk of failure in an operational context. Then they must give managers freedom to operate in the space between the rules. Too many regulations stifle the adaptive capacity necessary in fast-moving markets; opportunities are overlooked and threats spring up as surprises.
So how can you use simple rules and swarm intelligence to boost performance in your organization?
The first step is to embrace the inherent adaptive capacity of the individuals in your organization.
Trust is central to enhancing order. How much dysfunction has been spawned in your organization because sales doesn’t trust marketing, or because finance tries to micromanage operational decisions?
The essence of the order-centric mindset is to calibrate the exercise of control in service to order. Where it adds to order, control is beneficial; where it detracts, restraint is the wiser course. Where order prevails, there is clarity around the overall objective. Freedom of action is not only possible but encouraged. There is less concern about whether this is “my project” or whether “I” get the credit than whether “we” achieve our desired outcome.
Achieving alignment within the organization and across the value chain has always been a challenge.
Order is something we all generally seek, but few of us want to be controlled. Putting order ahead of control taps into these intrinsic impulses and unleashes initiative and innovation. It simply requires the courage to give up a little control.
Edited from the original Article by Eric j. McNulty at: