A Dynamic Organization Principle #7

Design Decision-Making Systems for Self-Organization

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An efficient and effective decision-making system is critical to survival in a complex, volatile economy. Organizations must develop processes that encourage self-organization. Doing so requires an open sharing of the vision, the free flow of information, and strong communication between all levels of management on down.

Decision making is one area where rigor and precision are beneficial in an otherwise fluid atmosphere. Respect for people’s time must be balanced with ensuring that everyone has a voice. Creative incentive packages, such as the ones discussed in Business Intelligence Success Factors regarding collaboration, enhance emergence of self-organization.

Complex organizations require a variety of decision-making styles. Some are designed for day-to-day operations while others focus on long-term issues. For example, formal decision making regarding important issues of management and predefined time periods, such as strategic planning, annual budgeting, and executive committee meetings, is typically well designed and structured. Formal, nonperiodic decision making designed to handle unexpected situations may also follow a set format. Formal decision making is used when a decision is needed with regard to a major restructuring, new directions, or investments and crisis management. Since formal decision making covers a variety of areas and are not planned very far in advance, the attendees may not be known ahead of time. These types of meetings are more common in complex organizations that aim to adapt quickly to market changes. Informal decision making can happen anywhere. It is important for leaders to be aware of the effect of limited input on their decisions. Managers who want to promote self-organizing, team-based, distributed decision making must recognize their power to influence through their conversational style and remind others that their opinion is just one of many that deserves consideration.

To foster self-organization, a company must guide its decision making to resemble that of an entrepreneurial enterprise. For example, reducing the presence of top management in the day-to-day operations is a good first step. Combined with an effective information exchange through every level of the company hierarchy, this shift ensures that the flow of information goes beyond the typical sharing of knowledge to include daily insights, ideas, and issues as they arise.

Self-organizing companies need teams that have a broad range of skills that represent a microcosm of the company. Such companies can adapt more quickly due to competent leadership and decision making at many levels.

Learning by doing serves large companies by reviving the entrepreneurial spirit. New challenges inspire people to connect with others to find solutions and increase learning. This leads to faster adaption of new ideas that energizes the workforce and unleashes innovation.
Complex organizations that share decision making and accountability must also share compensation. Many financial instruments to associate compensation with performance exist, such as employee stock purchase plans, cash bonuses, and stock options. One creative practice by Thermo Electron is the practice of spinouts. The company “hands over day-to-day control of newly formed subsidiaries and fistfuls of share options to the staff. The stock has returned 20% per year since the practice began.”[i]

Come back for the next 3 Principles on Leading a Dynamic Organization! Feel free to comment with questions, insights, or additions to this post. To receive alerts when the next blog is published, click on the RSS feed at the top left of the page to subscribe.

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