Many companies are introducing the concept of “agility” into their everyday vocabulary. Others are even creating departments to accelerate agile transformation. But what does it mean to be agile? How can big companies be efficient in a fast-changing world?
Complex hierarchical organizations have been around since the times of the Roman Empire. In fact, the first to introduce a pyramidal system was Caio Mario in 109 B.C who introduced it into the military by creating the concepts of leaders, ranks and soldiers. That same structure is still used in the military field, with its “Officers” (which in turn are subdivided into “general officers”, “senior officers” and “lower officers”), “NCOs” and “troops” . Even Egyptian society assumed the pyramidal system as a fundamental element of its culture and rituals. But what has led big companies, over the years, to partially borrow this model? The need of control is one reason, and on the other hand there is the need for clarity. However, the effectiveness of the pyramidal system works only in a context of great social, economic and political stability. If the current environment that changes continuously the pyramidal system shows its limit as to be able to adapt we need flexibility.
A bunch of new theories and new approaches have spawned in response to the VUCA world, moving us slowly way from pyramidal organizations to circular and multilevel organizations capable of responding to great global challenges: TEAL, Holacracy, Scrum just to name a few. These new approaches, mainly born in the IT area and now widespread in other parts of companies, are strongly structured and do not exclude the concept of hierarchy at all, but they renew it and complete it thanks to the introduction of some principles that encourage the full involvement of people.
Even in Sanofi Italia we are asking ourselves how to become more agile and we have been working for about one year to simplify our processes and procedures and to bring innovation into the way we work. The two-day seminar led by the Communication Department, which has redesigned itself and its way of working was born in this context with the help of colleagues from other department (namely Legal, HR, Market Access, PMO). We are happy to share this beautiful experience from which we hope you can draw many ideas and inspiration.
Before starting … why do we exist?
The pyramid system has always given a sense of security to managers because of the control they weld. If the environment around us changes to fast however, it can no longer be controlled by one person because too many things happen at the same time. Being agile in a world that changes exponentially, suddenly and in unpredictable directions, means reviewing together our ways of working and the decision-making processes.
The founding principle of these new theories and approaches is the notion of “purpose”, which becomes a compass able to align people and the design of the organization, and therefore to drive the decision making process. A sort of Copernican revolution if we think about the dynamics that often underlie the decisions made in companies. Why does a team exist? And on a larger scale, what is the ultimate goal for a company exist? The definition of the purpose of the Communication department was in fact the first exercise occurred during the seminar. After being divided into groups and with the help of colleagues from other departments, we found the right synthesis.
Why are we here?
Another important principle of these new approaches consists in the clarity of roles. Who does what? Who collaborates with whom, what is expected from each other? In fact, often tensions are born from the lack of clarity or the lack of correspondence between what is done and what is expected to do. How are the roles defined? The answer is surprisingly simple. We should move from the shared purpose and ask ourselves which roles do we need to fulfill our purpose. Below is how roles were defined within the Communication seminar.
The definition of clear roles brings with it many tangible benefits: full delegation to encourage autonomous decision making shorter delays, self-organization to name a few.
Meetings? Yes, but effective!
Another benefit of a clear organization with a shared goal is to improve the quality of participation, therefore the quality of meetings.
The perfect meeting, in any case, depends on what the team is doing at that moment. What does the team need? What does the team need to work efficiently? Each meeting needs to be “designed” depending on the goal. Some meetings are tactical and the discussion revolves around the objectives of the week, a short update and the definition of a “next step” for those tensions that are impeding us in our activities. In others meeting the broad-based strategy is outlined, such as priorities for the next three or six months. Other types of meetings are meant to define governance. What have we done in the last six months? What did we bring home? What can we improve?
Different goals require different processes. But certain ground rules are common throughout in order to maximize their efficiency.
First of all, the number of people: no more than ten. And then, the assignment of two new roles: the facilitator and the secretary. A facilitator is an important role that ensures, for the duration of the meeting, the quality of discussion. Often several people participate in meetings in a chaotic manner and, the general level of attention is low. This leads to low quality of conversations, which leads to inefficient meetings.
This is why the facilitator cannot be the leader or the manager. Because this would mean too much power in the hands of the same individuals who are already in charge of making important decisions such as budgets and strategy. A person of the team can be trained to become the facilitator during the meetings and become a key factor for success: good participation is continuously ensured, along with the efficiency and the quality of the content. This role goes with the “secretary” role, a member of the team that takes note of the decisions and the main objectives., Anyone can be elected – in different ways – and have the role of facilitator or secretary in different meetings.
How does a journey like this begin?
Because of its nature, self governing circles are difficult to set-up using a top-down approach, the typical pyramidal process: that would almost be an oxymoron. Also, it works very well if applied in the beginning to small project teams that naturally become the drivers of a change in the company. This allows culture to be spread by osmosis through the organization, favoring an organic evolution. Finally the challenge is to reflect these new organizational models and make them coexist in the corporate ecosystem. The communication department at Sanofi Italy is working closely with HR to implement some ideas and people from other departments felt inspired.
This post, published on the Medium page of Sanofi Italy, is based on the interview made to Mickael Drouard, co-founder of Fabric, during a workshop attended by Sanofi Italy Communication team.