Fluid & Flexible Structures in Adaptive Organizations

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  • 0:04 Adaptive Organizations
  • 0:52 Fluid & Flexible Structures
  • 2:51 Strategies
  • 4:29 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Natalie Boyd

Natalie is a teacher and holds an MA in English Education and is in progress on her PhD in psychology.

What does organizational structure have to do with adaptiveness? In this lesson, we'll look at the impact of fluid and flexible structures on adaptive organizations, including what they are and some strategies for setting them up.

Adaptive Organizations

Fredericka owns a company that makes packaged baked goods with healthy ingredients. Lately, she's worried about something. Customers often suggest new flavors, but it takes a long time for those suggestions to filter all the way up to her and for her to make a decision. She wants her company to be able to respond to customer requests faster. How can she do that?

Fredericka is thinking about her company becoming an adaptive organization, which means that it will be able to rapidly respond to the needs of customers and changes in the industry. If paleo baked goods go out and vegan baked goods come in, an adaptive organization will be able to be ahead of that curve. To help Fredericka understand how to move her company towards adaptability, let's take a closer look at how organizational structure can influence a company's adaptiveness.

Fluid & Flexible Structures

When she formed her company, Fredericka structured it the same way most traditional companies are structured. For example, as the owner and CEO, she's at the top. Below her are departmental managers and then team managers, and finally the workers themselves. Everything is organized according to the job. That is, there is a department for sales associates, a separate department for chefs, a third department for customer service reps, and so on.

Fredericka built her company that way because that's what she was familiar with, and she didn't really give the organizational structure much thought. In fact, she never thought at all about how that structure impacted the ability of the company to adapt and change. Adaptability is built on a number of things: communication, the sharing of knowledge, diversity, autonomy, cooperation, and flexibility are just a few of those things. Organizational structures can either promote these things or put up barriers to them.

A traditional set-up, like Fredericka's, has employees working in silos. This discourages communication, the sharing of knowledge, and cooperation. Likewise, the hierarchical structure of many traditional organizations can decrease autonomy.

So, what can Fredericka do? Fluid and flexible organizational structures promote adaptiveness in companies. These tend to be more horizontal in nature instead of hierarchical, and teams are formed based on a specific project or need, not based on job description.

Remember that Fredericka's customers often suggest new products. She might form a diverse team to work together on some of those suggestions. A customer service rep can talk about what she has heard from customers. A sales associate can discuss what's selling well. Nutritionists and chefs can be consulted, too. Together, this flexible team can come up with some new recipes. Working together in this way, the team is more diverse, more able to communicate and share knowledge, more autonomous, and more flexible. These are the things that lead to adaptability.

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