Why Adaptability Trumps Hierarchy?

Adaptability trumps hierarchy! Awe... how I love this phrase. How refreshing! How welcoming this phrase is to me. I have been working towards adaptive leadership culture in policing for over a decade and have learned throughout this quest to evolve policing, all too many people and I mean all too many, have a difficult time envisioning what an adaptive organizational culture looks like. They think free reign, and everyone doing whatever they want to do, which is not the case. In fact an adaptive police culture shapes their responses based on organizational mission and intent. This requires a common bond with common goals, as well as a shared set of core values. It’s Far from free reign. Quite frankly it’s more like free thinking or as General George Patton said; “Never tell your people how to do things. Tell them what to do, and they will surprise you with their ingenuity." They think no rules, when actually adaptability stresses, make no needless rules. They think I cannot trust my people, to work without my guidance, when in reality its their lack of trust that stifles initiative in their people. They think I can't command them if I don't control them, when the reality is, leaders should understand they always have command but need to be out of control, for their people to be able to handle the adaptive challenges they face. Frankly these nay-sayers have got it wrong.

Forget everything you ever knew about your company's org chart—and that's an order.

Cultures are unique to each organization and/or profession. These cultures take shape over time, eventually becoming so entrenched that people resist any change, even change that is positive and valuable to the organization. Many organizations get stuck by the current way they do things, simply because it’s the way they have always done it. They resist mainly because they fear losing something such as traditional methods of training, or operating how they have learned and developed over their careers. They fear they will lose control of their influence, their authority or prestige within the organization, and potentially their positions or jobs. Much of this is ego and individually driven and entirely self-serving, just hiding behind a smokescreen of leadership.

In today’s fast-moving, complicated policing environment, leaders will need to abandon traditional structures to create more nimble, effective team.

The rapidly changing world and evolving threatening challenges demand we become more self-aware and seek trade-offs. This means between traditional methods of training and operating and the uncertainty of ongoing, experiential trial and error the future demands if we are to thrive while handling crisis and conflict. This must be done with an understanding we collectively have a shared purpose, which focuses on winning conflict and crisis at low cost in the moral, mental and physical dimensions which often times takes us outside our comfort zones.

This post was inspired by what I think is a great article Fast Company has put out featuring General Stanley McChrystal and his new book Team of Teams: New Rules of Engagement For a Complex World got me fired up and optimistic about the potential of moving adaptive leadership into the forefront of leadership development. This fast company article shows the positive side of adaptive people responding to the aftermath of the Boston Marathon Bombing at Brigham and Women’s Hospital.

"[The team] just walked right from the OR to the emergency room," Caterson says, where other operating teams converged. Casualties started rolling into the ER but, as Carty remembers, "No one had any sense of what the scope of the event was. As far as we knew, this could be 3,000 people."

The article also illustrates how failure to adapt and keeping linear hierarchies can stifle initiative and cause great problems that could have easily been mitigated if only the organization was able to adapt.

"As soon as the Chevy Cobalt rolled off of production lines in 2004," Representative Murphy read to the packed hearing room, "customers began filing complaints about the ignition switch. In 2004 and 2005, GM engineers twice considered the problem, but it wasn’t until December 2013 that the company finally put the pieces together . . . almost 10 years after customers first told GM the Cobalt ignition switch didn’t work." In those 10 years, at least 13 people died."

Bottom line adaptability and adaptive leadership work and work far better than the hierarchical org structure we see today in all too many police organizations.

"Whether in the medical world or the manufacturing world, the organization as a rigidly reductionist mechanical beast is an endangered species. Armed with unprecedented amounts of data, leaders can peer into what is happening almost as it occurs, and this information can seduce them into thinking that they can predict complex situations. But the speed and interdependence of our current environment means that what we cannot know has grown even faster than what we can know. Leaders must find a way to empower their teams to find the way."

When you are dealing with adaptive challenges, which are what conflict and crisis are made up of, there is no obvious answer to the question: “What is going on here?” Trying to define the problem at hand is a contentious act in itself. Leading through this uncertainty requires courage, tenacity, and an experimental mind-set: You try things out, see what happens, and make changes accordingly. When you adopt an experimental/explorer mind-set, you actively commit to an intervention you have designed while not becoming wedded to it. That way, if it misses the mark, you do not feel compelled to defend it, and instead you are adaptable. This mind-set also opens you to other, unanticipated possibilities or other tactical options.

This requires adaptive leadership and bottom-up decision making by highly trained and developed professionals. It’s a command system that will allow you to foster harmony and initiative while maintaining variety and rapidity to exploit opportunities to get things done.

Perhaps when people read articles featuring guys in the mainstream like General Stanley McChrystal they will start to evolve their organizations to be able to handle both conventional and unconventional problems they face with the types of problem solvers they need.

Stay Oriented!