Normally we tend to diagnose institutional failings and then combat them with remedial programmes that often dismantle and then rebuild certain aspects of the organisation. Note that these characteristics are independent of the individuals that work within the organisation.
A well publicised example of such a failing was the accusation of institutionalised racism that was leveled at the Metropolitan Police here in the UK. No one individual was accused of being racist but the structure, processes, distribution of power, expressions of vision and beliefs was deemed to be supportive of racism.
So what might some of the characteristics of an institutional failing be and how can they be used to help us? I have alluded to one or two already but here is a short list:
- Strong beliefs and a mechanism for communicating them
- Well or clearly defined structures and processes
- Power centred on a few individuals
- An active ‘grapevine’ for informal communications
- Well aligned communications, trust and advice networks
- High degree of focus (not necessarily concern for) on people
This is not an exhaustive list but is representative of many undesirable institutional failings. Our natural tendency is to remove such characteristics through one or more change programmes and possibly staff development of some sort. For a large organisation the changes must be far reaching, difficult to plan (and control) and of course expensive. Had we been looking at undesirable furniture or waste paper then we would automatically think of recycling. Why not recycle these unwanted organisational characteristics and use them for a positive purpose?
One possible idea might be to create ‘institutionalised creativity’, a type of creativity that is inbuilt and pervades every part of the organisation in such a way that employees do not consciously think about it. Lets make use of a strong beliefs system (but change the beliefs), take advantage of clearly defined structures (but turn them into looser frameworks), use the company grapevine (as part of this process), be focused (but change this slightly) and make use of the centres of power (but make these sponsors of creative or innovative behaviour).
Such a programme may not be easy, but is it better than turning a whole organisation upside down?