Reinventing Organizations and Improvisation...

Reinventing is not just about the org chart…

Inventing radically more productive, soulful and purposeful organizations is a huge challenge that we have never been so ready to address. In his marvelous book “Reinventing Organizations“, Frédéric Laloux tells the story of a dozen of pioneers on this journey. They are in all domains (from manufacturing to personal care), of all sizes (from 12 people cooperatives to 400.000 people giants). We get to know what’s making them special, what they have in common, and we discover with enthusiasm their outrageously good results.

As I had expected, it’s not only about introducing new management techniques. In the book, Frédéric frequently shows how the pioneers invest in training, for people to learn the new skills and intergate the values and behaviours needed in the new paradigms. The mostly (only?) cited training is Non-Violent Communication (NVC) – a discipline that invites people to revive their empathy and listening skills, to respect themselves and the others… While NVC is certainly appropriate in this case, there had to be more than that… so here we are. I have been struck by how improv is close to the paradigms presented by Frédéric and others, and I’ll try to show you how. This should make it clear why the sessions of improv that we provide will make a perfect training for organizations reinventing themselvles… If you don’t know about improv’ and our practice, this article may be a bit confusing, but still should make you connect some dots. We are in the process of making all of this clear for the newcomer, but it’s not ready yet… In the meanwhile, a look at improv’s wikipedia page may help.

Improvisation and “Teal”…

In Reinventing Organizations, the new management paradigm (called “Teal”, the green-blueish color), is defined as having three defining characteristics: self-management, wholeness and evolutionary purpose. To simplify extremely: i) self-management is about distributing the managing power in the whole company, making pyramidal hierarchies void, and rendering the doers fully powerful and responsible; ii) wholeness is about harnessing individual’s whole human potential at work, not only the rational, serious, intellectual side but also the intuitive, emotional and funny one; and iii) evolutionary purpose is inviting us to see the organization as a living entity, having is own calling that evolves as opportunities arise in a way that cannot be dictated. More elaborated explanations can be found by navigating to the wiki dedicated to Teal management practices (written in a record time by a Teal team of which I was proud to be part of) or, of course, by reading the book.

About improv, now. Improvisational theatre is like theatre, but with no text, and no director. So, what remains is a group of people who must self-manage in order to build great stories together. In improv, decision on what to do next are taken every split second by individual actors playing together, not by discussing together about each next action, but by acting. Individuals have total liberty, but then take the full responsibility for taking the show further. The main rule: accept and build upon what is given. No one can dictate, attempts to predict and control will fail. This is a pure co-creation game, which never falls into the trap of negotiation. This requires a lot of skills, and also a climate op trust, empathy, security, fun, challenge, openness… 100% self-management.

Improv is also 100% wholeness. In improv, people must use both sides of their brain, must be themselves fully, fully in the moment. It’s not anarchy, and intuition and innovative moments are only producing a great show when balanced with rationality and tradition. Recognized patterns are desirable and needed, high mastership of the basic skills are needed, but then we adore twisting the reality to sometimes extreme extents, we love to reinvent ourselves all the time, and we need to listen to our deep emotions to reach deepness in the show. We need to come in total wholeness.

Finally, it is clearly the essence of improv’ to be an evolutionary purpose beast. Improvisers have to trust each other fully to overcome the fear of not knowing where it is collectively going. This enables real listening to where the story itself wants to go, and taking it there by bringing the best of ourself to the game. In those games the public values our efforts more than we could hope.

The good news? Improv masters (a selection of readings here) have been describing how improv works, and designing exercises to internalise the mechanics. And, even better, me and some colleagues have been doing a translation work to bring the essence of this to organizations. If you feel like your organization deserves a better management system, or if you’re striking to get there… we have something you might want to give a try to. Get in touch!