How Do We Structure Our Organization For Change?

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“It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.” Charles Darwin (English naturalist, geologist and biologist 1809-1882)

This quote says it all. The business world is constantly changing and evolving technology will never let the constant change ever slow down. What works today will probably not work tomorrow. There are new trends and innovation unfolding every day. Business leaders need to be in the position for their leadership team and their entire organization to adapt quickly, which begs the question, “How, truly, adaptable are you and your organization?”

In order to structure an organization primed for change, business leaders need to think and act differently, need to lead differently, and need to compete differently all while being agile and swift.

Every organization, no matter the size or complexity, has black spaces and white spaces within their organizational structure. 

Black spaces refer to those functional areas the organization has formally defined such as the departments and functions within the organization, as well as the team members who staff them. In simpler terms, black spaces are the boxes on your organizational chart. Most organizations manage their black spaces fairly well.

White spaces refer to those areas where the functional or departmental transitions or hand-offs take place. Hand-offs, typically, are not formally defined and are usually unclear. There usually isn’t any one person with authority over them. However, it’s in these white spaces where innovation, creativity, and out of the box thinking occurs.

In his pioneering book, Seizing the White Space, Mark W. Johnson argues that the business model of innovation is the most proven path to transformational growth. Since then, Uber, Airbnb, and other startups have disrupted whole industries; incumbents such as Blockbuster, Sears, Toys “R” Us, and BlackBerry have fallen by the wayside. White spaces are undoubtedly a metaphor about opportunity.

The black spaces encompass all the business opportunities that an organization has formally targeted and organized itself to capture. The white spaces, then, contain all the opportunities that fall outside the scope of formal planning, budgeting, and management.

Organizations that manage and maximize the opportunity of the white spaces often find they are able and have the resources to adapt to change much more quickly. Why? Well, in lieu of managing the defined black spaces, managing vertically, managing the white spaces or managing horizontally allows organizations to create cross-functional teams. Cross-functional teams are better equipped to assess, change, and adapt because the team is comprised of contributors from multiple departments or functions which by their collective knowledge and cooperation leads to new ideas, innovation, improvement of quality, and enhanced customer relationships. It also leads to less rework and waste and shortened lead times, etc.

If your organization could better manage and capitalize on your organization’s whitespaces, what specific results could this produce for your organization?

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