Updated: Oct 8
Organizational ecosystems are living, dynamic systems that are constantly adapting to the micro and macro changes happening within and around them. The purpose of these adaptations is to keep the ecosystem in balance and in some organizations, leaders allow these adaptations to happen without choreography, other organizations are adept at managing these adaptations without sacrificing employee engagement and then there are those that are somewhere in between.
Whether the leadership approach to the ecosystem is laissez-faire, participative or autocratic, stabilizing dynamics involve understanding relationships and managing flow so the system can continue to produce in healthy ways. Like a brain, ecosystems automatically rewire themselves when something happens so they can continue to carry out a function in the absence of the previous resources.
For example, when key work relationships are damaged, people will create a circumventive path to get the work done because they have the pressure of performance goals and they cannot afford for a relationship (or the lack of one) to negatively impact their performance goals. With circumvention of a person in a process comes an impaired process because of the associated redistribution of work placing added stress on the people and ecosystem.
How Dysfunctional Ecosystems Stabilise
Each organizational ecosystem has a purpose and in dysfunctional cultures, the purpose is usually related to low level needs like survival. While organizations can produce outstanding results in survival mode, this is not an optimal state over the long-term. An obvious reason for this is because people are a critical part of living systems and they tend to burnout when overloaded and can gradually dissociate themselves from the team and organization because of the feeling of being used, or the perception that management only cares about the results.
Some managers and employees have experienced this scenario so often that they are conditioned to think that this is just the way it is, so they accept the conditions as normative and do whatever is in their power to get the work done. This way of thinking can keep the system going but at what cost? What are they leaving out to get the work done? Are they sacrificing communication? Do they have relevant knowledge, skills and abilities to adequately complete their new assignments?
When dysfunctional systems stabilize themselves, individuals make many uncoordinated micro and macro decisions that fall within their authority or within policies and generally accepted practices. They just keep the system operating and they don’t always perceive the scope of the consequences of their adjustments especially when there are pressing short-term demands and impaired communication.
For example, in some companies, if a favoured employee is not performing and is not likely to be terminated, managers delegate the non-performer’s work to the high performers. In other words, they rewire the structure and system and while the work gets done, they create and perpetuate an imbalance which is absorbed by the system and manifests itself as burn-out and stress. If the redistributed work is permanently reassigned, this impacts the engagement of top performers.
Stabilising Healthy Ecosystems
Healthy organizational ecosystems operate based on trust. When trust is an overarching theme, there is more room for discretion and flexibility. People understand each other’s strengths and weaknesses and come together as a unified team to identify solutions that are more balanced than those in command-and-control cultures.
There are both healthy and unhealthy stabilizing layers within healthy organizations. This is not about creating a utopian experience, it is about creating one that considers different scenarios and the potential impact of various choices on stakeholders. Taking a holistic view when crafting decisions in healthy ecosystems means that the decision considers the effect on employees and other stakeholders.
When trust is present, this is not a guarantee of constant stability because there will always be dynamic external and internal pressures on the ecosystem. So the goal is not to seek every tension or imbalance to address them. It is impossible to address all tensions within an ecosystem. Instead, the ideal approach is to identify priority tensions and consistently work toward keeping them in balance.
When stabilizing a healthy organizational ecosystem, like the unhealthy ones, there will be a combination of auto-adjustments and decisions made by leaders. In trust-based environments, the team will come together, leaders will make well-thought-out decisions and so will individuals. The decisions and actions are aligned and there is room for unconventional decisions within known parameters.
Leaders in stable organizational ecosystems understand that when increasing someone’s workload, it should be temporary and if not, they should move some of that person’s responsibilities elsewhere to lessen the impact on morale and engagement. These leaders don’t only
balance the impact on people and the impact on the organization, they also consider the tension between the short and long-term impact of their balancing efforts. They understand that sometimes short-term solutions end up being long-term ones, so they take this into consideration.
In a short-term focused work environment, urgent demands can cause leaders to overlook potential long-term consequences that can lead to multiple suboptimal, short-term adjustments over the long-term because insufficient scenarios were considered. In some organizations, long-term solutions are not even contemplated.
Stabilising organizational ecosystems is a modern leadership competency, and when ecosystems are healthy, key internal tensions are a strategic priority, trust is a prevailing theme and people generally care about each other. Stability and instability will always be present within these ecosystems, but the way ecosystem addresses instability is holistic.
With knowledge gained from almost 40 years of Fortune 500 and international consulting experience, Yvette shares her rich experience and thought leadership models for transforming businesses from the inside out. She is a thought leader in the areas of trust, leadership and organizational ecosystems, an award winning author and cultural consultant.
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