7 Tips for successful coping with organizational chaos (revised)

Organizational life moves faster and faster, propelled by information technology and fluctuations in the market place.

Organizational structure, roles, responsibilities, missions and goals have limited impact in creating stability; de facto more often than not, organizations hover between the threshold of chaos and deep chaos.

Clients (and consultants whom I supervise) often consult with me about what can be done at the organizational “architectural” level to ensure effective functioning in the “threshold of chaos mode”.

Threshold of chaos is the area that exists between superimposed unreal man made stability (eg, our mission, charter) and the ugly reality (e.g., the need to make a commitment to win a tender, then immediately break the same commitment once we define what is “doable”)

Here are some of the cornerstones for successful coping strategies  for life on the “threshold of chaos”.

1) Ensure that staff has an end to end understanding of how things work, to prevent staff from optimization of sub systems. (“I don’t care how they DO it, I sold it)

2) Overinvest in the infrastructure of trust and strong personal relationships which serve as “credit” for enabling frequent change.

3) Loosen up rigidity by emphasizing the importance of overlapping roles and responsibilities augmented by ongoing dialogue and communication.

4) Hire people who know how to learn.

5) Deal with poor teamwork immediately upon the very first sign of dysfunction and never accept team clusterfucks as inevitable. (50 emails to get one purchase order ok’ed)

6) Be real! Deemphasize the “religious” doctrinal nature  of mission statements and other organisational artefacts which breed cynicism and contempt.

7) Focus training, consulting and coaching on enhancing staffs’ capability to function in ambiguity, which should be a major leitmotif of services provided to ensure strengthen people and teams.

Too many consultants swim against the current, trying to stabilize the inevitable chaos, after change is managed! (which it is not) 

Leverage the major critical difference between Change Management and OD. That being-Swimming with the current of change, working with clients to constantly adapt without the need for a so called “change management” effort each  time that a change is needed, which basically all the time.



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On Israeli “chaos”

This post concerns chaos in Israeli business culture. Not all Israelis are equally chaotic and clearly, there is more chaos in an R&D organization than in Finance or Supply Chain.

Yet Israelis as a society (and Israeli organizations) do embrace chaos. This post provides some background about the preference of chaos over order in Israeli organizations.

There are 5 widely used terms for chaos in Hebrew.

1) The Biblical term “tohu vavohu” (תוהו ובוהו)…null and void……as in “and the world was null and void”.  (Genesis 1:2)

2) “”Bardak” (ברדק) a Turkish borrowed word meaning messy and disorganized, although the translation is “brothel”.

3) The term “Kah-os”, (קאוס)clearly from the English chaos.

4) “Buka-umavulaka”, (בוקה ומבלקה) an Aramaic borrow word, a “high level” form of speech, also implying very deep chaos. Rarely spoken but often written. (The term originates in the Book of Nahum).

5) Balagan, yet another very popular borrowed word (from Russian)  to describe lack of order.

These words represents a linguistic need to differentiate between various degrees of the very low level of order in Israeli society.

There are many reasons for the chaos, some of which are:

1) A disdain for planning exists; planning is seen as a luxury of the opulent. Thus, with no planning, there is constant improvisation, which causes a “balagan”.

2) Over-reliance on systems is seen as stupid, and instead of systems, there is a massive use of relationships (including systemic corruption) to bypass systems. The orderliness that systems bring to chaos (Weber) is lost in Israel society.

3) There is a proclivity to re open decisions because nothing is very final, ever.This constant questioning of the status quo creates chaos.

4) Being an immigrant society, Israeli society has with too few shared behavioural codes and thus lots of things are explicit. This causes chaos in interactions.

5) There is a deep rooted belief that the individual must be empowered with ingenuity to work around barriers and obstacles to beat the system. At a societal level, this surely cases “buka umvulaka”.

All of the above creates a lot of creativity, a low level of scalability and lack of discipline.

Managers working with Israelis must realize that the chaos is not something which is startling or upsetting, but rather a platform of interaction, preferable to order for the Israeli. Too much order, or even some order, is perceived as less useful than pliable chaos.

Naturally, there are many exceptions to rule, and you may very well know many Germanic Israelis and orderly Israeli organizations. Yet they tend not to be rule, rather the exception.


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