You are a leader. You have a significant problem to address right now. Some issue confronts you that requires your attention and action. You have to think about it; you must give it time and physical resources of one kind or another. Your goal is to resolve this problem and eliminate the confusion or the conflict. Once you’ve accomplished this goal, things will be more stable in your organization. Is that good?
Generally, when trying to resolve a problem, we are trying to re-establish some aspect of organizational stability. Something happened with equipment, processes, or people that has really thrown a wrench in the works. The effects of this problem can show up in relationships, finances, property, or even bodily harm. Something must be done to re-establish stability.
What, though, is stability? Organizational stability occurs with the simultaneous presence of three factors:
- Consistency – current events take place in a reliable pattern with little or no variation.
- Predictability – future events can be expected to take place in a reliable pattern with little or no variation.
- Harmony – people agree upon expectations regarding current and future events.
What does organizational stability look like?
Well, for starters, your problem has been solved. The variations in product yield have ceased. The team is fulfilling its commitments and timetables as planned. The vendor will follow through with delivery as scheduled. The customers will be placing orders according to their and your own projections. Internal and external stakeholders are happy with performance and profits.
In short, you live in a dreamland (and some leaders might describe this picture as a nightmare). That picture of organizational stability might persist for all of a few minutes but something, somewhere is going to change it all and create chaos. Sometimes the chaos comes from within, sometimes from outside, often both. The reality, though, is that stability cannot be achieved for very long — if at all. Is this a bad thing, though? Is chaos actually preferable to stability?
What is chaos? Organizational chaos occurs with the presence of any of three factors:
- Inconsistency – current events occur in a unreliable pattern and perhaps with significant variation.
- Unpredictability – future events can be expected to take place in a unreliable pattern and perhaps with significant variation.
- Conflict – people disagree upon expectations regarding current and future events.
It is important to recognize that the chaos I am referring to is not organizational crisis. Crisis occurs when something truly life-threatening or reality altering occurs. We just commemorated the 10th anniversary of 9/11. What occurred for many individuals and organizations on and after that event qualifies as organizational crisis. Chaos, on the other hand, is more contained and more “normal.”
What does organizational chaos look like?
Problems abound. Challenges persist. Conflict arises. Relationships change. Losses occur. Rules are changed.
This is reality. This is what real people and organizations look like every day, all the time. I am not suggesting that we should happily allow these negative conditions to persist. On the contrary; it is in our very nature as leaders and followers alike to find resolutions to any and all of these conditions and it is the very pursuit of solutions that make us stronger as individuals and organizations. To the degree that people are not harmed and that laws and ethics rules are not violated, chaos is a very good thing!
I would very much like to hear your own stories of how chaos led to greater individual and organizational effectiveness.