Organisations are complex sociotechnical systems. And all organisations exist in various states of dysfunction all the time. Some parts of the organisation may briefly reach a “functional” state where everything works effectively, and everyone knows what is happening. But those states don’t exist for long. We can think of this as the organisational entropic force – the constant introduction of external and internal forces and changes mean that a functional state is rapidly drawn back to dysfunction.
We can constantly strive to reduce this dysfunction, and we should, but we must remember that there is no such thing as a truly, completely, consistently “functional” organisation, and there never will be.
Hybrid work is upon us.
Hybridisation in biological systems often creates a phenomena known as heterosis (also known as “hybrid vigour”): where the combining of two distinct varieties or genotypes results in a far stronger, more vigorous offspring, even though the resulting hybrid is usually sterile. Many commercial crop varieties are based on this principle, and the mule is a good example too, as the offspring of a male donkey and a female horse.
I’ve also been thinking about “hybrid” ways of working, and whether this kind of hybridisation also results in stronger and “better” outcomes. It’s much, much harder to create successful hybrid working systems and environments, but if we get it right, it allows us to exploit the benefits of both: the time saving efficiencies and comfort of remote and home working, combined with the power of high-bandwidth, in-person collaboration. But done badly, it results in the exclusion of individuals dialling in remotely to an in-person meeting, unpredictable travel patterns and lack of habit and ritual formation that’s so important to a high performing team.
If we’re going to make hybrid work, work for us, we need to be very intentional in designing the systems, processes, environments and practices that we use. And we must adopt an experimental approach, constantly evaluating and re-evaluating our decisions in order to keep, improve, or discard them in response to feedback.
Hybridisation of work can make us stronger, but only if we’re intentional and humble in our approach. If we are not, we risk degrading our outcomes as well as burning out our people.
Maybe the sterility of the outcome is where the analogy ends however!