Adaptive Cultures – Moving through Stages of Maturity

perspectives Dec 14, 2017

A major premise of the Adaptive Cultures Evolution Framework is that organisations adapt and evolve through stages of maturity. More mature stages of development are becoming increasingly necessary as the environments in which organisations operate become more complex. What needs to occur in order for organisations to humanely evolve?

In order for organisations to “grow up”, there are three fundamental aspects that need to adapt and grow:

  1. Individual maturity – individual mindsets, beliefs and assumptions
  2. Social maturity – mindsets, behaviours and assumptions about the way we work together
  3. Structural maturity – the structures, strategies, processes and policies that shape people’s experience and focus awareness on what is important in the organisation

At each stage of maturity, all three aspects mature and grow. However, the order in which this happens and how many occur simultaneously will depend on the organisational context and areas of focus.

The Adaptive Cultures Evolution Framework explores the individual and social maturity development through four stages – dependent, independent, interdependent, co-evolving. It explores the structural maturity through the stages of compliance, results, capacity building and evolving systems.

As in human development, a more mature culture doesn’t mean losing the gifts of earlier stages of culture. For a culture to truly mature, it needs to incorporate and build on the healthy aspects of previous stages and evolve these according to organisational requirements.

The following is an example of how and why an organisation may shift from compliant dependent to achievement culture:

From Compliant Dependent to Achievement

A healthy compliant dependent culture will have clear rules, processes and protocols in place, to ensure each person is allocated appropriate tasks in an efficient way and provided clear guidance on how to do their work. The hierarchy is typically structured so that wisdom and experience rise to the top, and decisions are made by the elite few for the good of the whole.

There are two possible pathways of evolution from a compliant dependent culture towards an achievement culture:

Alternative pathway 1 – increase autonomy, professionalism and respect for expertise

The dynamic of markets or situations can start to cause stress in a compliant dependent organisation when the need for the top few to decide everything becomes an unrealistic burden. One approach is to create spaces for rich sources of expertise to have more empowerment and say in decision-making. In organisations, this looks like the rise of professional families such as lawyers, engineers, or HR professionals. It often includes the elevation of experts to higher positions in the organisational hierarchy, and representation at the executive level. It may also include the bringing in of external expertise and heavier reliance on professional advice.

Alternative pathway 2 – increase accountability and drive the results

Another burden of a compliant dependent organisation is that the rules and tightly held decision making can slow down progress. In competitive situations, this can put the organisation at a significant disadvantage to a more nimble competitor. To overcome this, the organisation often establishes stronger accountability around results. People with a stronger results orientation and commitment to driving the organisation forward thrive as the organisation transitions.

While an organisation might start their transition from compliant dependent to achievement culture through either of these pathways, both are integrated into the healthy achievement stage of development.

When we refer back to the maturity map, we can see how these relate to our evolutionary journey. To move from compliant dependent to achievement culture requires us to build momentum towards greater professionalism, respect for expertise, responsibility and autonomy. Also, to establish accountability mechanisms to drive the organisation forward and achieve results.

Transforming compliance and dependence in an achievement culture

Compliance is still critical in an achievement culture, yet it evolves from being primarily rules-based and following instructions to more principle-based, with respect for independent judgement and discernment. Prioritisation, awareness of consequence and the intention behind parameters are taken into consideration before taking action.

Dependence at compliant dependent stage provides little room to question directives. At healthy achievement, there is a much stronger sense of when to seek counsel or constructively challenge, and when to take initiative to act independently.

From Achievement to Collaborative Growth

In the same way, there are two possible pathways from achievement to collaborative growth culture:

Alternative Pathway 1 – Move towards Co-Achievement

Establishing cross-functional ‘think tanks’ that move beyond sharing of knowledge to building bridges between different schools of knowledge is an example of an initiative to enable co-achievement. Collective intelligence is built to solve the more complex adaptive challenges the organisation is facing into. The way we work evolves towards a great collective identity which holds other peoples perspectives as not only different, but containing wisdom. The capacity to synthesise shared perspectives into larger more encompassing perspective and to hold and balance polarities are built in the organisation.

Alternative Pathway 2 – Develop greater purpose orientation

Establishing a deeper purpose that goes beyond the boundaries of the organisation (eg shareholder value or immediate customers), and towards a community-oriented multiple stakeholder approach starts to emerge at this stage. Competition (even with competitors) is transformed into collaboration towards greater outcomes for all.

A larger purpose requires different capacities to be built. Rather than building on insights from the past, a true future orientation is built with experimentation, learning and emergent practise as ways to enable the purpose of the organisation to be realised. The realisation of a larger purpose becomes central to decision making.

Once both pathways have been traversed, encompassing the capacity for co-achievement and the orientation towards a larger purpose, we have a truly collaborative growth culture.

Transforming compliance and achievement in a collaborative growth culture

To really understand how complex and challenging culture change can be, and hence why culture journeys need substantial time and attention, consider an effective collaborative growth culture.

As an individual, my responsibility has substantially expanded, where I am now responsible for:

  1. doing what I have been delegated or directed to do and apply my technical expertise
  2. knowing when to act independently and when to seek counsel and advice, with pragmatism and to enable organisational outcomes
  3. work with others to harness collective intelligence, lean into ambiguity and work with complexity beyond my realm of expertise or comfort

As a social group, we are now expected to:

  1. act respectfully towards each other and
  2. act honestly and authentically towards each other, sharing our ideas and knowledge AND
  3. prioritise according to a larger purpose, develop a true appreciation for diversity, lean into difficult conversations and ambiguity. This means embracing a range of different and sometimes conflicting perspectives and finding a way to hold and use them.

Structures are now expected to:

  1. uphold the rules AND
  2. provide pragmatism and agility AND
  3. build sustainability and adaptability

Reviewing the Adaptive Cultures framework, you may like to consider the culture journey of your organisation. Which ways of working and focussing your organisation will best enable adaptation and evolution to the next stage of maturity?

To read more about stages of maturity, download our whitepaper.

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