In this TED talk Martin Danoesastro asks, “What are you willing to give up to change the way we work?” He begins with a video of a flock of hundreds of birds rapidly changing direction in synchronicity, creating new formations over and over again. Researchers report that their ability to do so is based on two principles:

  • Alignment enables autonomy
  • Autonomy allows the birds to be fast and flexible

How do you replicate this agility in organizations, allowing hundreds, or even thousands, of employees to rapidly change over and over and over again? Danoesastro answers that “change is embracing the new and giving up some of the old.” (Whether he recognizes it or not, he is pulling from the work of William Bridges and other change management pioneers.) He then provides numerous examples of how organizations are doing just that. And, he highlights several principles for creating such organizations.

  • The new organization requires alignment and autonomous decision-making.
  • Leaders have to ensure alignment on the “why” and the “what.” They have to let go of the “how.”
  • Autonomous decision-making requires interdisciplinary teams.
  • The teams must be empowered.
  • There cannot be micro-managers or micro-management; everyone has to step up, to take initiative.
  • Transparency is essential.
  • Middle managers have to shift from being order-givers and overseers to becoming player coaches.
  • The new organization requires a new culture with less hierarchy.

Danoesastro did his field research in organizations such as Google and Zappos, organizations that have been recognized for their continuing innovation and agility. Throughout his talk he acknowledges the difficulty of making many of these changes. Transparency means relinquishing control of information, the source of power for many up and down the hierarchy. Again, maintaining control of the “how,” micro-managing, order-giving are all ways of being for some people, ways that they may be unwilling to relinquish.

What would it be like to apply these principles to your next change management initiative?