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Structure as Scaffold in Diaphanous Times

December 12, 2014


In a conversation with a friend yesterday I caught myself dismissing a recent organisational process as not really ‘working’.

One of the ways we often think about the success of structure and processes in organisations is through their persistence in time. In fact a definition of structure we use in the Holos Group is an enduring framework. Like many, I’ve spent time in different roles and projects designing and communicating new organisational structures and processes. Often they’re adopted for some time and then fall away, and it can be tempting to interpret their waning as evidence of poor design, a form of failure. Familiar phrases like ‘we tried that and it didn’t work’ come to mind. Of course working and not working are laden with implicit assumptions and expectations. 

Perhaps some better questions are

What purpose did it serve?

– Was it appropriate for the time?

What did it enable and disable?

How was it experienced by others?

Considering organisational structures and processes as temporary scaffolding for what’s needed in a particular context of time and place opens up a more generative inquiry, at least for me. They may still be well or poorly designed, but we need to ask different questions in order to find out.

The legacy of the solid machine keeps creeping back into our thinking about organising in an age better suited to the diaphanous. Now that is truly an unconscious metaphor and enduring framework that has persisted over time.

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