Strengthen your teams to stay relevant in the future

Embracing an unforeseeable future involves some shifts. Learn what you can do with your teams to stay relevant in the future.
5 mins read
Management Thinker Roger L. Martin wrote a nice book last year to help America to flourish. The key is to overcome the obsession with Economic efficiency [1].
I think the same applies to many other parts of the world.
We learned to run down costs and to capture market share to remain competitive. The lurking threat was a competitor, who might render your organization obsolete. But often it is something else that renders the organization obsolete. E.g. a shift in technology, bad management, other unexpected external pressures.
There is nothing wrong with running down costs, but as a CFO coined it: "By saving costs you won't grow".
We also learned that we are able to predict the future. Repeating things over and over should give you the ability to predict the future. Otherwise you are not in control of your business.
You might have had discussions about forecasting accuracy within single digit percentages. You might know stories of delaying shipments of products when sales targets were already met. All this, to avoid surges in sales numbers that cause the need for explanation.
The virus came both expected and unexpected and unraveled our former thinking. The virus came in a sense expected as there were already viruses before Covid19 in some parts of the world. And Bill Gates warned in a TED talk of this threat. The virus came as a surprise since most of us (me included) denied the threat of the virus for our personal life. But it hit hard.
Another threat is less exponential but steady. It is the climate. Climate gets less attention since the virus has more immediate consequences. But there is a difference. Climate has more power than the virus. Climate cannot be vaccinated away. It will stay if we don’t act.
Not only climate threatens habitats, it might hit by surprise as well.
It can disrupt supply chains, cause new regulation or changes in consumer preferences.
All this should lead you to accept the unforeseeable nature of the future. And to choose adaptability over predictability. Continuing as before we diminish resilience and reduce the corporate lifespans.

But how to embrace an unforeseeable future?

Accepting the uncertainty and choosing adaptability over predictability will not come easy. The assumption of the predictability was in a way very handy. It helped to plan and execute initiatives and to aid discussions with shareholders. For many it is a central point of consideration.
If you take this away, you need to replace it with something new. Otherwise many colleagues miss orientation.
We humans are wired to find motivation through our internal seeking system. Having an outlook is activating the internal seeking system. Since you need to find evidence that confirms your predictions or expectations and thus your expertise. Taking the stance of not being able to forecast the future cuts you off of the emotional highs and lows that come with the old approach. And all the stories that come with that.
Additionally you might have an unpleasant feeling of giving up control.
Accepting the future as unpredictable also disrupts how we work together. And the way we interact. Before it was enough to affirm that everything is according to the plan. Only exceptions were highlighted and then acted upon prepared contingency plans. Now everything can be an exception. So what to focus on?

What can fill the gap?

Whatever you come up with, on an organizational level it must help to collaborate across silos. On an individual level it requires to activate the seeking system again. And it must act as a reference for guiding decision making. Here are some steps:
Replace the organizational construct of the oiled machine with a living organism.
The complexity and uncertainty requires a new image for the organizational construct. An organization should in future be more like a living organism instead. The image of an oiled machine is obsolete.
Within an organism much happens one to one and is not planned or designed in advance. An organism is more likely to adapt. It knows how it creates value for all stakeholders. It knows its strengths. It is capable of leveraging diverse perspectives to make better decisions. It has a modular structure that is rearrangeable
any time. And yes, it also shows a certain level of redundancy. Redundancy to establish the bonds and trust between your colleagues. Trust is the fundamental basis for collaboration.
Paint the picture of the future with idealized design or backcasting
If you don't know what the future will bring, decide what future should bring. Then plan backwards. Idealized design or backcasting might help as methods. Having a vivid vision for the future will align people involved. It will also meet need to be a reference for decision making.
Provide ample opportunities to bond across the organization
Your colleagues should be able to understand how the organization works and what its parts are. If they know people from many parts of the organization, collaboration follows. Also making goals, initiatives, roles or assumptions transparent. People have the chance to support each other.
Build on strengths
People often don’t know their strengths. This is because they don’t have an effort to do something they are good in. They don’t notice their strengths themselves. But what if colleagues would know better about their strengths and others? Could teams not craft roles that play to strengths instead of relying on job descriptions? What if teams become aware of their strengths as a group? Wouldn’t they more likely accept challenges, as they know that they get the required support?
Collaboration is the only way to master the challenges of the future. Thus you should embrace the picture of a living organization that nurtures collaboration. It will bring the required adaptability for the future.


[1] Roger L. Martin, When More Is Not Better: Overcoming America's Obsession with Economic Efficiency (Englisch) Gebundene Ausgabe – 29. September 2020


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