3D Workplace

The three-dimensional revolution isn’t just for big screens and movie theatres. Our workplace has become a space where action is in 3D. For decades, the linear (two-dimensional) approach to getting things done was just fine – create a big strategy, draw some boxes-and-lines for structure, find and maybe train some staff. That is all but a memory now. The traditionalists are wondering why their numbers are so ‘flat’.

It’s 3D now because these three fundamental operating dimensions of strategy, structure and staff are in constant relationship with one another to create space where work happens.

Each area can only be as ‘ambitious’, ‘strong’ or ‘productive’ as the other. The big difference today is how these are developed and deployed. We’ve moved from linear this-then-that planning, alignment and implementation (basically functional disciplines and departments) or input-output relationships, to highly interactive, iterative and dynamic this-and-that dependency or relationships with constant feedback and flow.

These Ss may sound familiar because the originators of this aligned thinking were former McKinsey consultants Tom Peters, Bob Waterman and Julien Phillips, who pioneered the 7-Ss. The emphasis on these 3-Ss[1] is to isolate the basic planes (similar to length, width, depth of a cube) that create a space where effective work is possible. The management focus becomes generating the content of each dimension by earnestly managing the interactions of each.

A whole number of factors have contributed to this demand for all-at-onceness. Some of which include the convergence happening between traditionally segmented disciplines of: Consulting (management and strategic), Training & Development, and Recruitment (talent management). Download the attached Practice Convergence Trends document for an overview.

Organizations have always been social systems. Gatherings and collections of people engaged in a common pursuit (for the most part).

“As an open social system, the organization is defined and its boundaries set by the relationships and the patterns of behavior which carry out the continuing cycles of input-transformation output.” 

Daniel Katz and Robert Kahn, The Industrial Environment and Mental Health, Journal of Social Issues, Vol. XVIII, No. 3, 1962

Note the year of this reference – 1962! That makes this the 50-year anniversary. Let’s celebrate how far we’ve come, so close to embarking on the full potential of human interaction in organizations. Why is this so relevant now? With Peters, Katz, Kahn, Peters, Waterman, Phillips, Argyris and many others so far ahead of their time, the vast majority of us are getting caught up or perhaps just discovering these principles for the first time. We’ve moved well beyond industrial frameworks of management – outputs and outcomes just aren’t as predictable or controllable as they once were. Managing knowledge workers means managing innumerable approaches and possibilities, personalities included. There are many companies who have been seeing the world in 3D for decades and thriving as a result. What is especially different today is that success means much more than doing this-then-that really well. Access to information and knowledge (each other) has shaped new relationships and patterns of behaviour.

Our work’space’ becomes bigger or smaller depending on the boundaries of interaction between each dimension. Organizational capacity improves (or declines) – for outcomes, for change, for resilience. Doing this well is a precursor to the paradise of effectiveness. This place of effectiveness for any organization has long consisted of: Adapting to the Environment, Achieving the Objective and Maintaining the Internal System [2]. When Strategy, Structure and Staff interact at once, in an synergistic way, it becomes the basis of performance. Do one or more in isolation at great expense and peril, not to mention immense opportunity-cost.

So how do we manage all of this all-at-onceness? Focus on the overlaps, or the interactions between each dimension:

Strategy & Staff interact via Knowledge and Information: This is where collaboration, workflows and technology converge to translate strategy into participation and individual contribution.

Structure & Strategy interact via Organizational Design: This is where systems of accountability, reporting, decision making and role definitions set the strength of the enterprise and enable performance by distributing responsibility and authority.

Staff & Structure interact via Learning and Development: This is where expertise, ambition, creativity and skills are applied to build organizational capability and realize the potential of individuals with mentorship and advancement.

Download the attached 3D Workplace for a fun illustration of some past and present approaches to executing these dimensions.

[1] In honour of Peters, Waterman and Phillips, this model subsumes Systems as part of Structure, with Skills and Style as part of Staff.
[2] Argyris, Chris. Integrating the Individual and the Organization, 1964.

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