Organisational change, restructure of teams, development of new structures, org charts, words that fill me with dread and excitement in equal measure. In 2021 what is THE ideal structure of a function that is set up to deliver the foundations of digital transformation and how do we create a culture (and an operating model) that enables every individual to be the best ‘them’? I am six months into my role and I promised myself, the team and my predecessor that I wouldn’t medal with structures just because I could, just because I was new, just because I wanted it to be how I wanted it.

I promised I would wait until I was sure of the changes that were needed to enable us to be the best that we could be.

I have loved Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari since the first moment I read it, one of the concepts in the early chapters he raises is the concept of a ‘dividual’. The idea that we are already ‘dividual’s’ rather than individuals which was always a myth of history and religion, more and more we are the sum of all of our parts as the collective rather than a consciousness determined by the soul is a concept he explores. Its something that springs to my mind more and more as I consider how to create a culture embodied in an organisational structure that enables every skill of every person to shine through and at the same time allows learning and growth to be at the heart of the modus operandi of the team. I don’t ask for much!

My belief is that every person in the team needs to be the lightbulb that you glow. To glow though requires input from everything around you, illuminating just you won’t really make the whole team a brighter place.

How to move through the three states of organisation change quickly. We want to be in a focused state pulling together in the same direction but to get there we we have to go through the confused state which is abhorrent to most organisations and destabilising to the individual. Where we are now in my organisation though is the busy state, we are busy, often too busy, but doing ‘stuff’ that doesn’t always make the difference we want it to. How do we get through this state as quickly as possible with as much stability as we can muster? This is a key to successful organisational change, and what I am striving to achieve. The three states can’t be avoided, the trick is to get through them quickly, learn as much as possible and become stable and focused again.

There is only one way to set up a chess board, no permutations or distractions allowed, but after just six moves there are nine million permutations of the game and after just eight moves this leaps to 288 billion positions, and the options continue to grow and grow. There are ultimately more ways to play chess than there are observable atoms in the universe. So, it gets messy quickly, there is no one way to play Chess, there are rules to obey but you can play with your own ‘dividual’ style and flair, learnt from everyone you have been challenged by before. Its up to you to create the opportunity that you want to create. This, I also think is part of leading through change, it is your move on the chess board, you have to predict, guess and observe through learning how to react to the environments next move to keep you ahead of the game itself. Like I said I don’t ask for much!

The Gartner Symposium in 2020 had a theme (as it always does) the Composable Business was the phrase of the week in 2020 and as a basis to build from I really liked it. The building blocks for it to become a reality are; a thinking organisation, capability in business architecture and foundational technology that enables innovation and creativity to ‘easily’ grow.

If you enable your organisational structure to excel in these areas then you will create a fabric that can deliver no matter the changing situations around you, to continue the chess analogy you will be eight moves in with all your pieces intact and the whole board ahead of you. But, lets define what these parts mean, not based on the Gartner definitions but based on some reality from my current organisation.

Thinking Organisation: Anyone who has read more of what I have written knows I have a ‘fan boy’ relationship with Satya Nadella’s interpretation of a growth mindset. For me in the creation of my new culture, operating model and structure I want the ability to activate a growth mindset at the core of it every persons belief in what we do and how we do it. I look around my team now and as a whole we have this, an openness to everyone’s talents, a commitment to working damn hard every day and a love for the goal of the organisation. But, any structure we head towards I believe should enable anyone of the team to demonstrate their own attitude and aptitude to a growth mindset every single day! That becomes one of the guardrails for the new structure, it has to facilitate the growth of what we do, who we are and how we do it together.

Business Architecture Capability: Currently I am lucky to have access to the best enterprise architecture capability I have ever born witness to in any of the organisations I have ever worked with or in. The reason I think of it so highly is the connected tissue it has to the ‘business’. When IT in some organisations flounders to stay business focused our EA function keeps the team grounded in not just the art of the possible but the science of what is needed. When I reflect on why that is I believe its because they have very cleverly blurred the lines so artfully to be perceived by the business teams as offering a business architecture service as much as one that is able to consider the width of the enterprise. Any new way of working we consider deploying must build on this either formally, informally or if at all possible both. EA, maybe is the original art and science, or rather a badge for it?

Foundational Technology (Enabling Innovation and Growth): This will be the hardest challenge in reality, in an enterprise organisation that is on its way to implementing a platform structure at a global level, to enable foundational structures and operating models that insist on the delivery of basics first (for the division). Oddly this then is the hardest consideration right now. Particularly the overlay of innovation and growth. But, through a new thesis in how we partner, through a vision of the way we adopt agility and by enabling the ‘dividuals’ in the team to be innovative with growth (immediate and for the future) at the core of what we do I think we can get this right.

It is a little obtuse though that the hardest part of creating a way forward for a technology team in 2021 is the technology part!

What can we learn from the past, both the success that the organisation has had in structures and also experiences the leaders and parts of the team have had. Some parts of the team will be clear they can only look forward to new because ‘everything’ has been tried before! I am not sure about this attitude at all, so much can be learnt from success and failure in the past, and just because it hasn’t worked before doesn’t mean a theme on the past won’t work in the future.

In Ryan Leas essay book on the sophomore album by LCD Soundsystem he dives into the nostalgia for one song in particular, Losing My Edge, he says,

… there are plenty of rabbit holes to go down regarding the murky interaction between “authenticity” and newness and nostalgia… Most people can get nostalgic for something or another in their life, anyone who tells you there is no point in the past they look back on… has either had a life full of struggle or is full of shit!

What is interesting though is when you personally look back, being nostalgic at the success you have had in delivering change within a team as a leader how often do you see the success of what you delivered with slightly changed labels or views under somebody else’s stewardship? That is when you know you were 99% there and all that is now happening is the stamp of the next persons personality, not a re-write of history.

I have said it before, the role of the CIO is now more a steward of the team, doing the best you can for the next person to be able to add to, a CIO is a three to four year role, if you are the same CIO beyond that then you better be reinventing yourself and the team in the role or you should have moved on to bring your own personal genetics to the next digital team and its transformation. We are stewards of digital excellence delivered by colleagues we are there to support, and there is a time limit to the amount of time that you the CIO can be giving newness to a team to facilitate change.

Keep the best and reset the rest, has to be the motto when setting about change, taking on somebody else’s structures means it will have their personal stamp and way of working written large into its DNA and therefore you need to carefully consider the ‘genetic sequence’ that the organisation has evolved into before deciding which elements are ok to reset with the designed cultural impact and which will take a more thorough counselling approach to make true.

Once embarking on the change be ready to take up that large scale counselling role, for it to be a key part of day to day life until the change is complete. Perhaps even more so in a 2020 and 2021 world where the heightened state of risk and threat exists as we all ‘sit at home’ and worry about the role we play in the rich pageant of all that we deliver. The counselling leader builds on that collaboration capability, a reliance on your colleagues in human resources and organisational development is clear, but also look into the heart and soul of the team and understand how the relationships that work create opportunity for your success. When I look at my organisation now I know one of the key reasons that the digital team works so well with IT is the amazing relationships that have been created over the last few years of being at the fulcrum point of delivery every day.

Enterprise grade humility built on evidence based assumptions that show the deliberate and thoughtful reasoning for the change I believe are the make up of a leader in the counselling role working towards an organisational change landing in the way it has been designed to. The language of empathy needs to be part of every situation you are part of as a leader, a willingness to work through change in a ‘rationalisation way’ with every part of the team, not in a flip-flop way that will see mixed messages of direction float to the top but in a way that allows you to listen, absorb and apply to the goal in mind, or if not to explain why not.

And that dear friends is my design for change; to be carefully applied with the goal of success at its heart, with the feeling capability of the full nervous system at its reach points and with the change capability of every digit and limb to change as the ‘race’ unfolds. Wish us luck, we know its going to be bumpy but as a wise person once said, the only thing about change is it is inevitable!