READ: Are you too rigidly organised (or not enough)?

Yet again we’ve had another year with significant changes on many levels. How well are you adapting to them? How agile is your business and how well organised is it? Are your people and your systems flexible enough to make continuous changes, while staying organised enough to deliver quality products and services? Are you flexible enough in your thinking and behaviour, while being organised and consistent enough to be an effective leader?

As you think about your answers to these questions it is interesting to consider how you and your business are experiencing Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity (or VUCA) as they become the buzz words for the pace and pressure of life in the 21st Century. Leadership is now coming under scrutiny like never before and there is a need for a more balanced approach to the way we work.

One aspect of this balanced approach is summed up in a nice proverb I recently saw that states: “Orderliness creates efficiency and flexibility supports longevity. Nature is the perfect example of orderliness in the context of constant change”.

Organisation vs Flexibility

I have a number of clients who operate in a highly regulated and audited environment which means that the need for compliance is critical to success. This requires a very detailed and organised approach to work and it attracts a particular kind of person with particular preferences and strengths. They enjoy being very organised and are meticulous in everything they do. While this gets the job done to the standards required by auditors, if their attitude is too ‘Rigidly Organised’ it can lead to resisting change and a lack of willingness to adapt to new ways of doing things.

It is interesting to note that the people who sell and deliver the services have to deal with a number of variables and constantly need to adapt their approach to get the results they want. The agility and flexibility required for success in these roles means that people with strengths in these areas are often lacking in the precision and organisation needed for detailed compliance; they don’t enjoy it and would rather be doing something else. The compliance elements of their jobs take up so much brain power and effort that they always seem to find convenient excuses and reasons why they can’t do it. This can lead to them becoming scattered in their approach and a lot of details getting missed.

The key to success for these businesses is finding people with a happy balance, where there is enough overlap of both of these paradoxical traits to have a good degree of each one. This means having the trait of being ‘Flexibly Organised’.

Balanced Versatility

The paradox of organisation is neatly illustrated in the Harrison Assessment Report that looks at 12 different sets of key traits that may seem to be in opposition, but that complement each other when they are balanced. The tension between the two key traits needs to be just right or you get an aggressive or passive imbalance. This can be seen in the illustration.

If we enjoy being organised but have low levels of flexibility we end up in the ‘Rigidly Organised’ quadrant. This is called an ‘Aggressive Imbalance’ and in extreme cases it can lead to stubborn resistance to change or over-concentrating on the details, and becoming rigid or even compulsive about being organised.

The people who enjoy being flexible but have low levels of organisation are very adaptable and love the novelty and excitement of change and having a variety of things on the go. They thrive in environments where there is a need for trying different approaches. Many serial entrepreneurs have this trait, especially in the early days of building their business and exploring new markets. However, if they are not organised enough to get some consistency and allow some structure it can seriously limit growth because they have a ‘Passive Imbalance’ and are too scattered in their thinking and behaviour. The most successful entrepreneurs know themselves well enough and hand over the running of the business to people who are more organised!

The ‘Flexible Organiser’ creates order and yet easily adapts to change. When circumstances change they adjust to meet the new requirements and create a different order. They strive for the sweet-spot of efficiency without too much structure or unnecessary bureaucracy, so they are also effective. They are great to work with because their fluid orderliness enables others to work efficiently without feeling confined or restricted.

The direct opposite of the ‘Flexible Organiser’ is the person who is ‘Rigidly Disorganised’. People with this unfortunate trait have a deficiency in both of the key traits and this means they are neither organised nor adaptive to change.

Increasing self-awareness

What is your personal tendency? What are the different roles in your business and what traits do they require? Are the people currently in position a good fit, and what development do they need? While you can use your intuition to select the right people for the job, it is now very easy to compile a ‘Job Success Formula’ that allows you to identify the right balance of traits and characteristics for the role. This can then be used in the development of current job holders and recruitment of new people. There are also a number of Leadership Competencies available that will give you an instant snapshot of the strengths and areas for development in your senior team. To explore any of the above and to see where you stand on the Organisation Paradox, as well as the 11 other Paradoxes in the assessment, just contact Gloria at

Remember . . . stay curious!

David Klaasen

©David Klaasen – July 2016