From Chaos to High Performance – Stages in Organizational Development

In a recent workshop Red Kite ran for a third sector organization in Bristol, we introduced a model called The 3 Stages of Organizational Development (developed by Roger K. Allen).

The first stage of organizational development is Chaos. In the Chaos phase workers adopt a ‘fire-fighting mentality’, which is problem-centred, responding to demands put on staff. At this stage the organization is stumbling from crisis to crisis, and working to short-term and often shifting priorities. A feeling of “us and them” can develop between staff and clients, and also between frontline staff and management. This chaotic form of organization could, for example, be developed to cope with the demands of clients, who may themselves display chaotic behavior.

In the second stage, Stability, the focus shifts away from the immediate needs of the clients, and focuses instead on developing a stable set of processes. These include: clear goals, well-defined policies and procedures, clear lines of reporting and responsibility. This provides consistency and stability for the frontline workers. However, the weakness of stability as the organizing principle is that it can engender bureaucratization, and stifle innovation by skilled and experienced staff members in response to service-users needs.

The movement from Chaos to Stability is like a moving through a narrowing funnel, whereas moving from stability to the third stage, High Performance, is the opening out of the funnel into a wider creative space in which employees have extensive decision-making and problem-solving responsibilities. This is made possible by agreeing a clear mission and values. The mission underpins good communication, shared ownership and empowerment of all staff. Employees then feel they are partners in the organization and are able to assume responsibility for its success. It is clarity rather than control that makes possible outstanding and sustainable results.

Many organizations will display elements of each of the three stages at once, as was recognized by participants in the workshop. Ongoing development of people in the organization is crucial to achieving high performance. Having time out together to identify which aspects are already high performing, where there is chaos that needs structuring and how to support staff with stable structures and clear procedures. The group can also identify where stability is constraining the creativity of frontline staff to focus on the needs of service users.

A facilitated group can be creative in exploring how things are going and what improvements are required to achieve High Performance in a flexible and innovative way. Members of the group identify the organizational changes they require and propose concrete solutions in their area of work. Where the group is drawn from across an organization systemic change can be explored and effective solutions developed.

See The 3 Stages of Organizational Development (by Roger K. Allen),

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