Book Notes #29: Organize for Complexity by Niels Pflaeging

Organize for Complexity is a book about complexity and work with a condensed introduction to the theory and practice of organizational high performance.

Title: Organize for Complexity: How to Get Life Back Into Work to Build the High-Performance Organization
Author: Niels Pflaeging
Year: 2014
Pages: 142

As a book about complexity and work, Organize for Complexity provides an introduction to the theory and practice of organizational high performance, or even as a manifesto for contemporary leadership and profound organizational transformation.

In Organize for Complexity, Theory Y and globalization are used to highlight contemporary leadership and management practices.

As a result, I gave this book a rating of 8.0/10.

For me, a book with a note 10 is one I consider reading again every year. Among the books I rank with 10, for example, is Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People.

Overview of Organize for Complexity

For anyone who wants to build high-performance organizations without bureaucracy or command-and-control structures, this book is a must-read.

Organize for Complexity is written to explain its ideas in a simple way, full of illustrations.

Introducing unconformity without intending to be deep.

The article about The Taylor Bathtub and Management Changes came from this book’s ideas. During the twentieth century, Taylor’s scientific management was the basis for management.

Niels Pflaeging argues, however, that over time, the simplicity of this model in organizations compensated for the social gaps with hierarchical divisions, the functional gaps with fragmented responsibilities, and the time gaps between thinkers and nonthinkers.

As the graph shows the historical trajectory of market dynamics and the recent growth of complex markets, it is referred to by Niels Pflaeging as the “Taylor Bathtub.”

Niels calls the “old management” system Alpha, where the control comes from bosses.

Design principle Beta – following the work: Teams are multi-functional, interdisciplinary, or functionally integrated.

Design principle Alpha – following functions: Groups are uni-functional, or functionally differentiated.

Creating an environment conducive to success is the focus of this slim and engaging book. Business owners, managers, change agents, and consultants, as well as professionals of all kinds, will find Organize for Complexity insightful.

How can we adjust a growing organization, without falling into the bureaucracy trap?

How can my organization deal with growing complexity?

How can we become more capable of adapting to new circumstances?

How can we overcome existing barriers to performance, innovation, and growth?

How can my firm achieve higher engagement and become an organization fitter for human beings overall?

How can we produce profound change, without hitting a wall?

In order to address these issues, Organize for Complexity argues that we need to build and sustain organizations that are truly robust and fit for humans.

In Organize for Complexity, an alternative approach to managing teams and companies is described.

Organize for Complexity suggests that the key to managing complexity is to develop a more dynamic and responsive organizational structure, which is less hierarchical and more networked.

It also suggests that organizations should focus on building “relational intelligence” as a way to better understand and navigate complexity.

Organize for Complexity is intended for managers, leaders, and anyone else interested in managing complex systems in organizations.

My Book Highlights & Quotes

“… Design principle Beta – following the work: Teams are multi-functional, interdisciplinary, or functionally integrated…”

“… Design principle Alpha – following functions: Groups are uni-functional, or functionally differentiated…”

“… The only “thing” capable of dealing effectively with complexity is human beings…”

“… In complexity, the question isn’t how to solve a problem, but who can do it. What matters now is skillful people or people with mastery or prowess…”

“… Working on individual parts of the system does not improve the functioning of the whole: in a system, it is not so much the parts that matter, but their fit…”

“… We cannot act on systems, leadership, performance, or change coherently if we don´t agree beforehand on the assumptions we hold about human nature…”

“… In complexity, diversity in motivations and preferences can be an asset, or a liability, depending on the level of self-reflection present…”

“… Teams are multi-functional, interdisciplinary, or functionally integrated. Diverse individuals who work in an interconnected fashion, with each other and for each other – individuals who commit to work together to reach a common goal…”

“… Culture is not a success factor, but an effect of success or failure. It is an image of the circumstances in an organization, not their cause. That is why it also cannot be influenced directly. Culture is like a shadow…”

“… By the way: an organization cannot fully know itself. Therefore, a self-description can only be developed with outside help…”

“… Culture is like a shadow. You cannot change it, but it changes all the time. Culture is read-only…”

“… The difference between rules and principles is that for setting up rules, you need to analyze every possible situation before formulating them. Rules are based on the pattern of if-this-happens-do-that…”

“… Principles are like guidelines that help you test whether your actions are aligned with your beliefs and values, or not. If not, you have to search for another way to solve…”

In summary, Organize for Complexity provides a new perspective on the complexity of organizations and systems, and it suggests a new approach to organizing and managing them based on the idea that complex systems are composed of many interacting parts and that effective management requires continuous adaptation to changing circumstances. 

Organize for Complexity emphasizes the importance of developing a more dynamic and responsive organizational structure, which is less hierarchical and more networked and focuses on building “relational intelligence” as a way to better understand and navigate complexity.

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