Creating a responsive and/or an improvisational organization

The responsive organization and the improvisational organization

A Releasing Your Unlimited Creativity discussion topic

Copyright 2008 by K. Ferlic,   All Rights Reserved

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The exploration of creativity in the workplace and subsequent exploration of our individual inherent creativity reveals there were three areas to address relative to organizations and creativity. The first is for an organization to become creative it is necessary to bring a creative energy into an existing organization or group of individuals to achieve full performance to meet organizational and/or workplace goals. That is, new ideas and new ways of thinking and being into an existing organizational system or to a group of individuals desiring to become more creatively responsive and/or more adaptable to a changing environment. The second is for the organization to respond in a creative way to desired or necessary changes. The third is to create an organization and organizational system accessing the individual’s full potential to achieve organizational goals and in which creativity flourishes. The three of these are fulfilled in the responsive organization and expanded upon in the improvisational organization.

A responsive organization is an organization has the energy and creativity to response to a changing condition to do what needs to be done in response to that change. The most typical responsive organization is that of an emergency services were the services are based on past experiences to response to the types and kinds of experience of the past. It is also an organization which can deal with issue and adapt without being forced. However, the response is lead from within or from a hierarchal position.

Improvisational organization is a step beyond the responsive. An improvisational organization has the energy and creativity to response to a changing condition to do what needs to be done in response to that change as a responsive organization. But it also has the creativity and energy to adapt and to continue to do the original mission before the change imposed itself for as long as necessary. The improvisational organization is also capable of becoming creative to anticipate the unexpected by thoroughly knowing the why behind all that is done to change what is done to do what is needed. Here the response and improvisation comes from within the organization and its members.

In many ways the improvisational organization rare. Here the individuals within an organizational structure are able to work without clear orchestration, other than a general theme. Each of the individuals are accomplished and they intimately know the others so well and their intentions are in such alignment with their actions that they can pass the lead from one to the other without a break in the flow and yet provide harmony. In this type of organization, in any situation, the members know where and when they should pass the lead and to whom. Few organizations ever achieve this level of performance. Not because they cannot achieve it, but rather, there is little focus and attention directed to this end. The key to this type of organization is are result from the individuals living from their intuitive guidance with a common shared visions.

Over the years there was and continues to be a concept of leaderless teams, or their equivalent, within organizations. This type of concept tends to be with professional who all see themselves as equals and fully capable of doing whatever needs to be done without the need for being told what to do. However, there is no such thing as a leaderless team. There a closely related concept that provides what many desire in leaderless team and it is the improvisational organization. What needs to be understood, is that there is always an intention of held by someone, somewhere that is the focus of any effort. That intention functions as the lead even if the who holds that intention is not involved with the group of individuals or organization in question. The actual person who leads any effort may change or a team may be self managed without a particular person leading the team giving the illusion of being leaderless, but the effort itself, the reason why the organization or team exists, is lead by an intention.

This intention must be clear and embraced at some level by all the participants in the effort if the maximum potential of the effort is to be obtained and the group functions like a leaderless team. There needs to be a desire within each individual to manifest the intention that keeps the cohesion of the group. What happens in many organizations that have been in existence for a time is that the original intention that cast the form of the existing organization is forgotten yet it is still embedded within the organizational structure. This original intention then conflicts with the current intention in very subtle ways and efficiency and effectiveness is lost and problems develop.

Obviously and improvisational type of performance cannot be achieved if the individuals are not individually accomplished and capable of harmonizing. In this regard, the orchestrating skill and talents become vitally important for executives and/or supervisors who lead and manage organizational change. This issue becomes particularly acute for executives who have spent most of their career in stable operations with a well defined infrastructure, who come face to face with significant expectations of change when the current infrastructure is not designed or equipped to meet the demands of the change.

The main difference to a responsive organization and the improvisational organization is that a responsive organization addresses the change which occurs and renders the organization safe. The improvisational organization addresses what the responsive organization addresses but find a way to continue to effectively operate in spite of the changes.

The key to creating a responsive organization or an improvisation organization is to have effectively harness the creative spirit within the individual and harmonized its performance with the performance of others. It is to create a way of doing business in the organization to perform the required task and functions yet hold the individuals’ creative spirit sacred such that it is a viable and powerful force available when called upon to perform creatively. In a responsive or improvisational organization usually morale and motivation are not issues for the individuals have an internal motivation to achieve what is desired and an inherent understanding of what needs to be done

Probably the best way to talk about an improvisational organization is through example. What is interesting about this example is not that it is unusual for an organization to operate as described here for many emergency organization and emergency response personnel respond this way all that time. What is different is that this was not the response of an emergency response organization to a disaster but a normal organization responding to a significant unforeseen event as if they were an emergency response organization.

In the summer of 2003 a blackout affected the Northeast and Midwest United States. Given the backout, there was confusion at all level and there was confusion in the airline industry. Many airports were affected by the blackout and only a few airlines got any flights into the air, except Continental Airlines. Although Continental was especially hard hit with two of their hubs, Cleveland, Ohio and Newark, New Jersey, losing power, Continental only cancelled a few flights compared to hundreds grounded by other airlines. In the aftermath of the outage only Continental was the only airline flying out of New York City area. According to the reports, Continental crews flew special flights to both reposition aircraft and accommodate customers. Continental employees figured out how to keep flights flying and getting passengers through security. Although computers were down agents took the initiative to use cell phones to call their headquarters in Houston to get passenger information

Although there was backup power at Newark and power at Cleveland remained out till the next day, Continental employees at both airports unloaded, loaded, and pushed jets back without normal electrical power. What was interesting was that Continental employees were not calling for permission to act. Rather they were calling to keep the system and passengers moving passing information need by others. The ability to act in this fashion in such a huge unplanned blackout was reported to be a result of a company investment in reshaping the organizational culture that gave the employees both the confidence and ability to act.

What is important here to note here is this was a normal organization responding to an significant unforseen event. There was nothing special about the organizations mission. It was the same and many other similar commercial enterprises. The difference was in what kind of organization its manager desired to create and went about creating it.

So the question becomes, what are the qualities that allowed for such a responsive organization to become an improvisation organization as the need arises. They are in fact not any different than what one would instill in any effective emergency response organization. The only difference between a response organization and an improvisational organization is the ability to move pass the response to the crisis and continue to function during and after the crisis whether or not things return to normal. That is, the improvisational organization can continue to operation outside of normal operating conditions - the improvise how to function.

They key qualities identified are as follows: There is accountability for what one is responsible for doing and performing to meet the level of performance expected. It is to take responsibility to do what one is responsible for doing. There is a willingness to share information and get the information to the people who need it. There is no fear resulting in the need to hide bad information and no fear not to act as necessary. There is collaboration. But it is not in the sense of each member of the team doing their job. Rather it is a collaboration where each individual has the desire to work together to help each other perform their role. The individuals respect and appreciate each other and have come to know each other in a variety of setting. Goals are shared and high performers tend to help the low performers or individuals who are having difficulty for whatever reason. There is initiative and the knowledge and awareness to know what an individual does can make a difference and it is appreciated. There is an atmosphere where the individuals feel they are allowed to make a difference so they offer ideas and suggests. In such an atmosphere, when normal operations are disrupted, they have the ability, confidence and knowing support of the organization to seize the initiative to meet the common goals.

These key qualities are attributes or qualities of a creative spirit which is nurtured such that its true needs are met. The more an individual is able to access and live the truth of their being and allow their creative spirit to freely unfold, the more they will be able to express these key qualities. They do not have to be trained or instilled in the individual. They are already there and they only need to be given the space and opportunity to come out and be expressed. But these are not qualities that can be turned on or off. They need to be continually developed and allowed to grow, evolve and unfold every day. Hence the need for a ongoing organization structure that creates the space for the true needs of the creative spirit to be nurtured and the individual to become strong in the awareness and application of these qualities.

Creating a responsive or improvisational organization are not that hard to create. It has been done by many emergency response type organization and specially trained groups of individual. The question is whether or not the organizational management wants to set the intention and do the work to create such an organization and, of course, the journey starts with the key individuals getting in touch with their own creative spirit and nurture it true needs.

Related topics
Nurturing our creative spirit in the workplace
Harnessing the creative spirit
A quantum jump between different types of organizations

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