Again and again, one reads that institutions, their managers and employees need to be able to react flexibly to today’s rapidly changing environment in order to remain competitive. And this is actually what flexibility is all about. It’s the ability to move quickly and easily. The better you know yourself, the easier it is to be flexible. For companies, this means that they must be able to react to and deal with unforeseen events quickly –  if this seems necessary or is deliberately wanted.

However, some of the managing directors or managers, that I work with, often tell me on the first day of our common project that I will have to show a high level of flexibility when working with them. By the way, I think that you won’t have to ask someone who has worked for a longer period of time in less developed countries to demonstrate a certain degree of flexibility. In these countries, you will always create several alternative plans in order to be able to react to unforeseen events quickly and easily. But let’s come back to the managers who need a very flexible environment… After a few hours or days of working with them, I have the impression that they tend to use the term “flexibility” instead of “chaos” in order to present something in a more positive way or to their own benefit. Chaos refers to a state of complete disorder and confusion. It is thus almost the opposite of flexibility. Managers who are chaotic are neither capable of managing their time and resources, nor willing or able to work on the basis of processes or structures. A chaotic management style means that managers allocate tasks to their team members at short notice, they don’t know much about efficiency and the workflows within their teams are never the same. So, I would like to take this opportunity to urge those so-called “flexible” managers to start working on themselves in order to avoid further destruction! Because the chaos they create has nothing to do with flexibility. Their chaos will definitely harm the organization: Unsatisfied staff, inefficient processes, low productivity and introvert communication are caused by a lack of processes and structures that are either missing or are simply not applied – through this inward-looking focus the company will lose touch with the outside world and major unforeseen changes. Changes that you will only be able to cope with when you’re flexible.

I always compare this to a huge cruise ship: the ship and its crew will not be able to react to unforeseen incidents without the perfect interplay between planning, processes, structures and the observance of all rules and directions by the crew that also has to carry out the required tasks. In the case of an unforeseen event (e.g. a massive iceberg along the route), everything must run like clockwork.  That’s the only way how a huge cruise ship can avoid a collision and prevent sinking. So, flexibility does not mean chaos. On the contrary, chaos prevents flexibility. And it thus also prevents organizations from operating in today’s increasingly uncertain and fast-changing environments in a fast, agile and focused manner.


Author: Ann-Katrin Hardenberg, THE MAK’ED TEAM