Agile organizations: fresh impetus through top-down

In the last blog in our series on the development of the Haufe Quadrant we wrote about a key finding for Haufe-umantis: at some point even the most agile start-up must impose a minimum of rules and structures. This was not a sudden insight. In fact, our further development – and therefore structural change – was a gradual process. It was a long while before we realized that our company was slowly but surely on course to become overstrained.

Top-down helps to reduce complexity

One of the chief causes of this overstraining was the increasing complexity of our collaboration. What initially used to be a quick call across the desk increasingly required extensive coordination. Clearly defined responsibilities and lines of communication were lacking. Everyone could say no, but no one would say yes. So it was clear that further leadership was required in our agile organization in order to restore the sense of direction for our employees. Our solution was to hire experienced senior managers – “gray-hairs”, as we called them – for various areas such as sales, consultancy, development, finance and HR. In hindsight, I would describe this wave of recruitment as an overreaction to our impending overstraining. But our goal was to equip ourselves with sufficient expertise for the next phase of our company’s development. And this could no longer be found among our own ranks.


Timing is of the essence

However, only a few of these recruits turned out to be successful. We had selected the wrong profiles, which is why most senior managers could not deal with our organizational culture. So we had to let most of them go after just a short period of time. If these same managers, who regarded themselves as intrapreneurs, were still with us, they’d probably be the ideal fit for Haufe-umantis. But at that time we had to face up to the fact that you have to hire the right people for your company’s particular phase of development. And at this crucial stage for us that meant managers with a very broad skill set: we needed both drivers of our strategy and people prepared to roll up their sleeves and get stuck in – in other words, intrapreneurs and executors rolled into one.

But we struck it lucky and hired a woman who was a perfect fit to head up the consultancy division. In no time at all she was delivering outstanding results. We gave her more and more responsibility until she eventually took on the COO role. Without her clear-sighted and decisive management our company would not have grown as quickly and flourished in the way that it has.


Good drivers – of vehicles and organizations

As in my last blog, I would like to use the metaphor of traffic to illustrate how people fit into organizations. A good driver, for example, has outstanding knowledge of the highway code, drives with foresight and is always in complete control of their vehicle. However, all this matters little if they are unfamiliar with local cultural practices. A European driver, for instance, could easily lose their way on Indian roads. And driving on the left makes some continental European drivers break out in a cold sweat. However, these situations have little to do with driving ability. And it’s precisely the same in a company: it’s external circumstances that determine whether a person is a good fit for an organization – whether they turn out to be a intrapreneur or a executor in the given setting.

For in reality you very rarely come across the stereotype of the pure shaper or pure doer who is virtually immune to external influences. And that’s a good thing – especially in an agile network where far more people can and must be shapers than in a traditional hierarchical organizational design. I see it as a kind of Gaussian normal distribution, to which I will be coming back to in my next blog post.


Recruiting promising managers often pays dividends. However, if your recruit doesn’t fit into your company’s current phase of development separation is an important – if not always easy – step. Have you experienced this situation before?


Photo Credit: Markus Spieske via Flickr.

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