Resilience, the future of organisational structure


Future adaptable, agile and resilient structures could be the key to success in a world characterised by disruptive technology and the intelligent automation and connectedness offered by the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR).

The need for businesses to compete in a digitally transformed world is likely to have a significant impact on South Africa’s already high rate of unemployment. This means that all businesses should be grappling with the challenge of how to take up the opportunities of the 4IR to improve productivity, efficiencies and drive down costs, whilst retaining employment.

Whilst much of the current debate and discussion about the 4IR is focused on what work will look like by 2030 and the need for re-skilling, little attention has been paid to how the structure of organisations themselves will need to change.

“Organisations need to plan how to transition to this future world of work in a way that minimises disruptive restructuring exercises where everyone re-applies for their jobs.

“Redesigning work and jobs for technology whilst simultaneously providing the learning opportunities required, may be the greatest challenge for organisations in the transitional decade to 2030,” said Deidre Samson of the University of Stellenbosch Business School (USB).

Samson focused on the concept of “structural resilience” in her recent Master of Philosophy (MPhil) degree in Futures Studies at the USB and said the need to remain competitive by driving down costs acts as a driver of structural change. This leads to “organisations announcing layoffs in a cyclical manner as core technology, systems and capabilities change”.

The “tectonic disruption” of intermittent restructuring can be avoided by developing structural resilience, using futures methodologies and tools including forecasting and scenarios, to timeously envision future structural changes and the impact on jobs.

“Organisations can then change in a prescient manner that allows for ongoing re-skilling, lifelong learning and adaptation,” she said.

In an environment of increased breadth and pace of change, she said, organisations would transition from hierarchical to “networked structural arrangements” such as the “exponential organisation” – becoming ecosystems where participants add value, rather than work in a rigid structure defined by employment contracts.

“The exponential organisation has a more permeable boundary with the external world, invites ideas and innovation and embraces unrelenting change as a way of life. At its core, it is made up of small, agile, multi-disciplinary teams excellent at solving large complex problems.

“Work can be contingent, remote, outsourced or part of the emerging gig economy of freelance, flexible, on-demand workers. Melding the best of the gig economy with the best of traditional employment brings in diverse, fresh thinking, whilst maintaining institutional wisdom and allowing meaningful innovation”, she said

Samson said the jobs of the future would be reconfigured to take advantage of uniquely human attributes not easily replicated by technology: curiosity, imagination, creativity, social and emotional intelligence, intuition, personal empathy, collaboration, lateral thinking and innovation.