Aristotle already had in his metaphysics, more than two thousand years ago, the right intuition – The whole is more than the sum of its parts. However, the Cartesian perspective has broken the world down into its components for centuries, thereby obscuring the look at the holistic possibilities. Despite the encouraging experiences of companies like 3M or W. L. Gore & Associates GmbH, large corporations struggle to rethink. Aligning collaboration based on the needs of the employees and creating a more fruitful whole through with the resulting engagement is the ultimate purpose. The inability to leverage these strengths can only be explained by the inertia of the responsible managers. They are unsure how it will go on for them when the bureaucratic regulations, permanent surveillance, and excessive news dissemination are no longer needed, and they become obsolete. The brave are already trying agility in various forms – agile enterprise, agile organization, agile employees, agile managers, agile culture, agile mindset, agile project management, and agile product development, simply agile hodgepodge.
The following building blocks promote productive wholeness.
- Positive diversity
In a VUKA world, the components found on different levels influence each other mutually. To react appropriately, i.e., to act at the right place and, above all, on time, other capabilities take center stage. Ashby’s law of required variety has clarified that the greater the variety of acts of a system controlling others, the better it can compensate for disturbances. This means that the remaining managers and employees must be more diverse in their traits, behavior, and means than the tasks and the competition. The difference is created by:
– a wider range of skills (e.g., besides technical, also social and systemic capabilities),
– an extra commitment of all,
– extended perseverance,
– the restriction to tasks that are needed,
– the interaction in the team, and
– a strong sense of responsibility.
The losers are all those who continue to worship lockstep and only add skills that already exist in the company.
- Leadership style without leadership
The new style replaces leadership with fostering. The most significant burden for a company is a legacy structure, whose decision-making and reporting paths are unnecessarily long, diluting resolutions and slowing the speed. Leaving the choice to employees at the point of action creates a momentum that the usual leadership cannot match. At the same time, the open work style provides employees with a common direction and security. Influence then no longer comes from a formally established position but trust and contagious enthusiasm.
- Entrepreneurs in the company
The days of economic officialdom are coming to an end. The new understanding of leadership works through entrepreneurial action. The employees can no longer pull back from solving a given task but must behave like they owned the company. They have, as a result, more risks. On the one hand, a large company offers the danger of unintentional mishaps and losses, but on the other hand, these are more than offset by surprising gains. Even if individual units can fulfill their tasks more flexibly, the whole remains a large fleet that works together because of its joint alignment.
- The energy is in each personality
Everything that happens originates in the minds of individual employees. If the human image of the Theory Y is adopted by the leaders, they can bring their experiences and abilities to effect. Together, they experience adventures that expand their mental models with new insights. With a shared vision, ideas emerge that are no longer predetermined but are jointly elaborated and move the company forward. Combined with the personal drive fueled by shared momentum, the fitness evolves that secures the business.
Bottom line: It is not a question of the size of your company whether it has to take care of the new leadership beyond agility, but when. Change is happening no matter what. And if you are already suffering from the feeling that you should be taking more care of your employees, or that cost pressure is melting your margins, or that the economic climate is threatening you, then the right moment has come to act. Should you have done it earlier? This question is useless because you cannot turn back time. The positive diversity, the leadership style without leadership, the entrepreneurs in the company, and the use of the existing personalities are building blocks that already take you extremely far. You only need to activate your most vital advantage now – namely the whole that is jointly generated with everybody and brings more than the tayloristic waste through the old-fashioned bureaucracy.
One consequence of the information age is the unbelievable amount of data on the Internet of more than 33 zettabytes –
33 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 Bytes.
With about 20 e-mails per employee, the responsible people are trying to reduce their costs. For storage it takes the right hardware and software, infrastructure and electricity, as well as the right personnel. A common remedy is limiting the size of individual mailboxes and to transfer the management of this bottleneck to the employees. That way, the hitherto experienced specialists are being replaced by a flood of “amateur administrators”, i.e. in total all employees of the company. This isolated stand-alone solution of the IT department costs the companies many times more than the savings in IT.
Based on this example, we consider the consequences of a reductionist approach, which prefers the uncoordinated execution of units and must lead predictably to unintended consequences that harm the company as a whole. As simple as the reasons are, they are easily overlooked.
- The individual part does not supply any sign of the Big Picture
By examining a Lego brick we obtain data about its color, size and the number of connections. However, the individual brick tells nothing about its function at the point of use or the purpose, size or complexity of the assembly. Companies try to remedy the deficit of their division of labor by proper strategic and cultural measures, which are set by the management. In the above example, the pure costs of running the email are offset by the consequences for the company – overflowing email accounts; time taken to sporadically manage each email inbox by all users; time delays due to blocked inboxes; dissatisfied counterparts.
- The measures are limited to the subject matter
The activity limited to the individual stone reduces the complexity and simplifies the processing due to the missing consideration of the affected environment. The result is checked with appropriate test cases. However, the wide variety of use cases can only be reproduced to a certain extent. At the end is the fragment that is assumed to fulfil its purpose on its own. In companies, procedures based on the division of labor succeeded over the years. The interfaces to other areas are assumed to be known and are accordingly considered in business processes and projects. When supplying the downstream areas, one department pursues the goal of delivering as little as possible. At the same time, it expects more than is actually needed for individual processes, just in case. The lack of an overall view prevents a meaningful exchange. In our example, it leads to delayed, incomplete or simply incorrect backups of the email contents, which generates immense additional expenses for searching and restoring the data for all employees.
- The possible synergies are invisible determined by the system
An area defines its scope of action and the necessary interfaces based on its function. Within this framework, its own goals are the top priority. Engagement for goals that go beyond this increases one’s own efforts without foreseeable appreciation. There are even noticeable disadvantages if the own goals are missed later. Out of understandable self-interest, the departments therefore concentrate only on their own matters. The unintended consequences for the company resulting from the interaction are suppressed, as they are outside of their own scope. The overall result of the company is getting therefore worse. In the end, the reduced IT costs for e-mails are offset by the lower productivity of the employees. On the one hand because they cannot perform their actual tasks during this time. On the other hand, they cannot develop a routine due to the sporadic obligation. Not to mention the disadvantages that arise after the mailbox overflowed – the sending of e-mails is delayed; incoming e-mails are no longer accepted and have to be resent.
The whole is more than the sum of its parts does not mean that isolated outcomes automatically result in added value. The units produce results that either contradict different interests or override one’s own contributions or those of others. Only when working holistically, there is a chance for more. Even if the disadvantages of silo thinking have already been recognized and are being replaced by comprehensive process management, the transfer points between the tunnel tubes, even if much less, still need to be operated. New ways of synergy are needed to prevent the blind spots that still exist between the responsibilities. The liberated company that hands over control to the employees based on a positive human image, is a conceivable approach to mastering the ever-increasing complexity.
Bottom line: A company is nowadays a tightly woven network of activities that reacts sensitively to the smallest changes. At the same time, companies have not yet managed to break away from traditional structures. The result is a conflict of goals between the company’s intentions and its “sub-companies”, divisions, departments and teams. Silo and tunnel walls no longer fit into this fast-moving era. The price of the encapsulated individual solutions, which lack the connection to the whole, which only take care of their own construction sites and do not take into account possible synergies, are consequential disadvantages, which increase the risk and damage the whole, as well as missed advantages, which would result from a joined approach.