In the previous Daily Thoughts posting, I said that successful growth contains the seeds of its failure. Managing the organizational complexity that has been created to cope with the growth, may outweigh the benefits derived from growth itself. I said that the emergency cost-cutting is hardly an answer and I compared it to owners of a five star hotel closing half of the bedrooms while keeping the heating on.
The way in which organizations grow matters. In what I call the ‘Lego mode’ of growth, organizations grow by adding more and more pieces all the time. If the Lego pieces are truly independent (as in the Lego system), there is always a possibility to reconfigure the model by using the pieces somewhere else. These pieces are valuable in more than one place, they are transferable, they are re-assignable. The new model will look different but most pieces will not have been wasted. The big Lego build could also be split into smaller, equally meaningful Lego units, if this were needed to manage the business more efficiently.
In what I call the ‘Jigsaw mode’ of growth, the building pieces have a different role. They have a unique place in the model. They can’t be reassigned to a smaller Jigsaw. Also, the Big Jigsaw cannot be downsized to a smaller one without losing its purpose and look. A piece lost, or a piece out of place results in a gap, a hole. Getting rid of pieces in each quadrant of the Jigsaw, or a 10% ‘reduction of pieces’ across the board, will deliver an ugly Jigsaw with lots of holes.
Building Jigsaw organizations is exciting because everybody is brought on board is unique, or a specialist, or ‘just the piece we need’. However, the flexibility of the Jigsaw is very limited for the reasons I have explained above. Today, building Lego organizations with self-reconfiguration capacity is a smart choice. Don’t interpret this as forming a company of generalists. Lego organization also contain ‘unique people’ and ‘specialised’ people, but the hiring is very mindful and highlights that they can be called to serve in different places and different capacities, and that the re-configuration is a strong possibility in any future.
The Jigsaw organization is highly specialised but also highly inflexible. It can only be replaced with a different one. Read: start all over again.
A built-in capacity for reconfiguration, and nurturing of the company memory (at least by avoiding the loss intrinsic in many reorganizations and lay offs) are two design criteria to have in mind when building a new organization or growing an older one. There are other criteria that I use in my organizational architecture work, but theses two are the ABC of modern company design.
The Lego and the Jigsaw represent two different views of the world, two different scripts and narratives and two different concepts of management and leadership.