Organizations aim for a dynamic balance between their performance and the demands of their environment. Balancing is a necessary act of action that ideally leads to this goal. That sounds like theoretical organizational sociology. It is.
Change of location: children’s playground. In the playground, children try to walk across a balance beam. They stretch their arms wide apart in order to maintain the necessary balance. The hands can be seen as poles. The further a hand / pole goes down, the stronger the countermovement must be. This is the only way to achieve a balance. If this movement is too strong, the children will fall off the balance beam. The desired result, a balanced run across the entire balance beam, was not achieved. Balancing between two poles does not only take place on the playground. This is also true in sport: sporting development takes place between the poles of tension and relaxation. In music: Musical pieces attract attention when there is a balance between the notes played and the rests. Nutrition: Meals are tasty and digestible when there is a balance between acids and bases.
And leadership! Managers are successful when they can balance between stability and dynamism.
There are 3 aspects to consider:
1. There is a continuum between the poles. You can think of it as a route. Driven by the actions of the executives, the respective status quo is pushed in the direction of one or the other pole.
2. Remaining on a pole for a long period of time puts the whole organization at risk. If measures to stabilize the organization are constantly implemented by implementing new rules, process specifications, etc., then an organization freezes to a point at which change becomes difficult. Conversely, if there are large degrees of freedom that allow one working method to be tried out after another, it becomes very chaotic and working results can hardly be achieved in an effective manner.
3. There is a tendency to try to get from the corner pole “stability” directly to the other corner pole “dynamics” or vice versa. The resources required for this are large and the potential for failure immense, because the change required for this is simply too extensive. Current examples can be found in the New Work field. Hierarchy levels are deleted and agile project management is introduced. No organization comes along. The structures change quickly, but the people who have to work in the structures do not.
Managers who balance successfully avoid extreme movements between the poles. They concentrate on a balance that they adjust over and over again in small steps through their daily management work. They move between areas of tension that have an impact on stability (S) or dynamics (D) in an organization. Areas of tension can be: do it yourself (S) vs. delegate (D), proximity to the team (S) vs. Distance to the team (D), optimize (S) vs. innovate (D).
Balancing in the fields of tension needs the thought pattern “as well as” instead of “either or”. Doing one without leaving the other is the most likely approach.
Balancing thus aims at dynamic stability. Let’s take the tension between “doing it yourself” vs. “delegate”. If the manager observes that the delegated task is not being processed, they can first communicate their observation and clarify the expectations. If the measure does not have any effect, it should intervene in a supportive manner and implement parts of it yourself. In doing so, she ensures that the task is completed. Then she can clarify what is necessary from the employee’s point of view in order to have the task completely processed by the employee himself. If a similar task is pending, the manager can start the next delegation attempt. At some point the task can be routinely taken over by the employee. The process starts over with the next new task.
Even if everyone wishes: There will be no stable long-lasting equilibrium. The constantly changing environmental requirements result in a reaction from managers who have an influence in one direction or the other. Who doesn’t know the discussions? We need to centralize responsibilities (S). It doesn’t go on like this, everyone does what they want here. After important processes have been centralized, the wake-up call starts in the other direction. We are not making progress: We have to decentralize responsibility (D), we need faster reaction options on the market. The pendulum keeps swinging back and forth between poles. The process only ends when the organization has lost its raison d’etre and the organization no longer exists. We have to come to terms with the fact that organizations are constantly on the move.
Balancing is not a leadership model that follows rigid principles. It is a model that works on both a large and a small scale. The executives are asked to recognize the opposing poles of the respective area of tension and to make a balanced decision. This is a daily task that can become routine over time.
Dr. Volker Casper has been developing managers as internal personnel developers or external consultants for decades. His development approaches have received several awards. He is currently managing director of oddity-evolve GmbH.