Why shapeshifting organisations are the future

Core staff, expertise-as-a-service, and robots will work side by side on teams that form to address a specific initiative mdash; and dissolve as those needs expire

Forrester believes current organisational design has “aged out”.

In today’s customer-led and disruption rich market, most organisations are proving to be slow, rigid and culturally tone-deaf, the analyst firm says in a recent report on The Future of Organisations.

For companies to thrive in the current environment, leaders will need to fundamentally rethink what an organisation is and how it works, says Forrester.

One model they can look at is how to morph into a “shape shifting organisation”.

“If leaders had a blank sheet of paper, they would design organisations to compete and thrive in a talent-scarce, customer-led, digital-first, robot-enabled, ecosystem-oriented, and privacy-sensitive market,” says Forrester.

“They would design to the outside market with an eye toward the future, scoffing at internal-first approaches optimised for the past.”

The resulting design will allow “constant change, redefining the very essence of an organisation”.

But it notes the current design of most organisations is leading to “dangerous inertia” in the fast shifting environment.

For instance, more than half of firms are in the midst of digital transformations, but few have gone beyond bolt-on efforts to optimise individual channels or functions, says Forrester.

Meanwhile, CEOs’ responses have been “light” or they have deferred hard decisions.

Employees will race to keep their skills current in between assignments - or even during coffee breaks.

For instance, they introduced new roles such as chief digital or chief data officers to create cross-silo leaders to tackle hard, entrenched issues. This minimised the roles and responsibilities of existing executives and complicated governance, says Forrester.

Firms are also creating innovation centres away from the main business to work on projects that are protected from existing culture and vice-versa, “with no plan to bring the innovative (foreign) culture back home.”

These initiatives, “create pockets of new and sometimes powerful capabilities while avoiding organisational disruption,” says Forrester.

“They speak to the underlying fear of making deep-rooted changes in the spirit of managing risk. Ironically, these same instincts to minimise risk are creating new (and sometimes profound) risk.”

Shape shifting organisations, on the other hand, have fluid, multi-skilled teams.

Core staff, expertise-as-a-service, and robots will work side by side on teams that form to address a specific initiative mdash; and dissolve as those needs expire. “This represents a major shift in thinking - from organisational design focusing on jobs (that are fixed) to tasks (that are fluid),” says Forrester.

Microlearning will explode as staff seek depth and proof of skills and create demand for continuing education programmes. “New microlearning offerings will be all the rage as employees race to keep their skills current in between assignments mdash; or even during coffee breaks,” says Forrester.

Forrester says C-level executives will also find their roles shift from leading functions to orchestrating a dynamic business.

This particularly applies to the CIO and CMO. Rather than building and optimising silos, the CIO and CMO “are the ringleaders to ensure a dynamic and hyperresponsive organisation”, says Forrester.

The boards, meanwhile, will also shift to become “risk brokers”.

They will push to decompose and reassemble big businesses into stables of networked capabilities, while constantly assessing and managing the risk that comes with restructuring, says Forrester.

There will be a shakeup in the board composition, says Forrester. The preference will be towards “digitally savvy change leaders experienced in navigating the ambiguous and pushing beyond the horizon to set the leadership bar at its highest point”.

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