The Cloud & The Pyramid: Variable & Virtual Organizational Models for the VUCA World

For all the handwringing before board meetings, answers have emerged that could bring peace of mind and real hope for those beleaguered by the task of achieving dramatic transformation in business results, not just nudges to lines and boxes in an organizational chart, or tiny bumps in profitability.

Much to the consternation of proponents of self-organization and Agile transformation consultants around the world, the Fortune 500 C-Level executives and private equity corporate heads do not always have the option of completely flattening their organization by fiat or even slowly building consensus.

So, are they dinosaurs destined for extinction? That is a question I’ve never heard uttered out loud in the boardroom. However, it is a question that plays on loop-track in the minds of senior management and executive leaders into the wee hours of the morning, depriving them of a good night’s rest. I assure you of that fact.

What’s so variable in the geometry of a pyramid? No matter how firm and stable a pyramid-shaped organization may actually be, when presented with an extremely urgent, complex problem, it can transform into a network cloud formation, wherein ideas, questions, answers, experiments and collaboration arise instantaneously.

The social technology that enables this instantaneous and temporary state shift is called Open Space Technology (OST). It was developed by Harrison Owen and has been successfully put into practice by thousands of organizations and hundreds of thousands of individuals since the early 1990s, or around 30 years from the time of this writing. The outcomes have been life-saving to the companies that invoke it. Projects that reach an impasse, after years of apparent progress (faux value estimation), can be completed and reach market consumption with feedback in mere days (like 2 or 3 days, literally.) OST delivers every time.

“If it’s so easy, why doesn’t everybody do it?” you may inquisitively ask. What do you suppose the duration of the window of opportunity is between “Things went pear-shaped; we’re in free-fall” and “Hallelujah! Crisis averted.” is? Judging from the wreckage of companies that didn’t recover, it was a window that opens and closes in a day or two, if it was ever really open at all. No such schedule slack for “We searched for an unconventional approach to our crisis, and we found it! Press the ‘All Hands’ siren! This event goes live NOW!”

That’s why. You’re reading this because you know the time to dig a well is NOT after you get thirsty. It’s when you notice the water pressure drop…for reasons unknown. You can’t keep working “business as usual.” The pit in your stomach tells you that. You’re not asleep at the wheel.

So, there’s enough time right now to leverage this technology in your org structure; to empirically confirm it eats Wicked Problems for breakfast, and by lunch it’s hungry for more. You could run this event on regular cadence, per Open Leadership Network’s model of OpenSpace Agility. There are handbooks, training, and seasoned business coaches to help you, and they actually do this year-round for a living.

So, that was the “Variable”, but what was the “Virtual?” Your current HR policy and annual written Performance Reviews conducted by middle level managers may not be so conducive to the organic forming of Agile teams and networks of Agile teams, who are completely self-sufficient or inter-locking in collaboration. If those elements crowd out the cloud, you need to make some space for it. It may take the powers that be in your organization years (if ever) to form a consensus to improve/evolve those policies in way that removes the interpersonal dynamics that yield forced-march pseudo-Agile (aka ‘Agile Theater’ games).

Here’s the short-cut: Nest a virtual cloud network reporting structure into a “bubble” in the organization that the Agile transformation sponsor has legitimate authority across the organization to enable, which from the exterior satisfies the rest of the organization with all of it’s pyramid trappings. The clerical task of filling out the paperwork for performance reviews, bonus, raises, promotions, transfers, training, PTO, hiring, budgets, etc. is done by a specialist to clear the decks for real value creation to occur inside the bubble, the political maneuvering can be shelved until further notice.

This should give you a sense of what that my translate into your organization bubble like:

So, which will you choose? Why not have both? One hand washes the other. Break out of the pyramid structure for clearly bounded period of time: 2 or 3 days of dynamic Cloud behavior. Then return to your original pyramid structure. During the Open Space Cloud event, you could Invite attendees to discuss what the virtual org roles would be inside the bubble you soon form, and on a strictly time-bounded, experimental basis. Put in whatever guardrails are appropriate to allow creativity to thrive within reasonable constraints. It’s a rinse and repeat process from there, every 3 or 6 months.

What parts of this seem difficult to you? What field reports or case studies do you require to take your first, small step for your people into the next chapter of your corporate history? A thriving community of experts can help.

I’ll see you there.

Jon Jorgensen
Executive Leadership Coach

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