2011-10-06

Creating Chaos to Develop a High-Performance Organization

Matt Shlosberg

Creating chaos to develop a high-performance organization

Drake Business Review | Volume 3, Number 2 | drakeintl.com



We spend a lot of time developing leaders we can rely on to run our organizations, make the right decisions, and get things done.

But leadership, as a concept, has flaws:

  1. By creating leaders, we sometimes diminish others.
  2. By creating leaders, we create followers. We focus on developing leaders, not on developing followers. But followers need to develop as well.
  3. Followers distance themselves from leaders. This removes a level of trust, communications, and performance from followers. Dominant voices and groupthink destroy teamwork.
  4. Leadership creates the hunger for power, and power can corrupt people. Corrupted people often make the wrong decisions.



What’s the solution?Let’s define a leader as a person who possesses a number of competencies, such as awareness, emotional intelligence, communications skills, ability to influence others. Now let’s take out one of these skills – “the ability to influence with authority” – and add two more – “great team player” and “creative thinker”. Rather than calling this newly minted person a leader, let’s use the term “teamer”.

We are now ready to create a great organization. Forget leadership. Let’s create teams. Our perfect organization will consist of teams, small enough to be able to make quick decisions, but large enough to bring efficiency. These teams will consist of teamers, people with great leadership skills who don’t care about subordinates or followers but have all of the other leadership qualities that make them great communicators, as well as highly effective team players.

Now let’s add some motivational factors. Every teamer should be an owner in every sense of the word. Every teamer should be rewarded based partially on their own contribution to the team, and partially on results achieved by the team as well as the organization as a whole. 

Now let’s add some checks and balances. Every teamer should be accountable to their teammates. Teammates dictate every teamer’s salary, direction, tasks, and whether they make it in the team.

Now let’s add complex decision making. Complex decisions should be made by boards, consisting of cross-functional teams.

Now let’s create a process that assures we have the right people in those teams and that they are prepared to make these teams highly functional. Let’s focus our educational efforts on building great teams. Make sure teamers respect and trust each other, build on each other’s ideas, stretch, innovate, create and manage healthy conflict, come up with decisions and commit to execution, hold each other accountable,
and focus on team results, rather than self.

Now let all information free and create a system of 100% transparency. Let everyone in the organization know absolutely everything.

Now, let’s set our teamers free and let them create chaos.

An organization consisting of the right teams with the right people, the right personalities, the right training, and the right attitude will act like a market. The market is efficient (at least that’s the widely accepted theory) because it consists of people working for their self-interests. An organization with the right teamers will also be efficient if people are set free and allowed to pursue their own self-interests. The boundaries set up by this system will act as motivators and checks and balances to make sure the system stays as efficient as possible.

At first, you will see total chaos, but then the system will self-stabilize and turn into a powerful, self-sufficient, unbeatable, high-performing machine. What is the impact of this strategy?

An organization will become much more dynamic and efficient. There will be a higher degree of trust and productivity. There will be no side effects of leadership. People will stop worrying about their rank, promotion, and power and will focus on what matters most. Communication will be open. Ideas will flow more freely and be more likely accepted. Change will become a way of life. People’s jobs will be easier to do because they will now focus on what’s natural to them rather than what’s developed through brainwashing. People will be motivated to think differently, try more things, apply their imagination, better utilize free information, take bureaucracy out of decision making, take annoyances out of work, and make work more fun. There are some implementation challenges as well. As is, this organization may become flawed if not managed correctly. At least initially, this organization will need a “chief engineer”, who will create a vision, define a mission, and create this organization. This person is a leader of some sorts, who should, however, exert behaviours that reinforce those of other participants of the system. Once this vision is established, the chief engineer can move away from this role.

Teams may inadvertently veer off and create unwanted effects. You need some kind of organizational police (maybe a board consisting of representatives from various teams) to manage such challenges and keep this system stable. There may be other problems with keeping this system stable, requiring other tools to keep it on track. This system won’t be efficient and people won’t be ready on Day One. The organization will need to transition to this system from the status quo, which is a serious and tough change effort. It will also take a significant effort to convince those in power to drop their titles, scratch their leadership status and careers, and move to the new system.

Considering these challenges, implementing this strategy won’t be easy. But organizations can take some simple steps to launch this process:

  1. Create a limited test inside of one department of an organization.
  2. Put a lot of effort into teamer development.
  3. Stop reinforcing old behaviours.
  4. Start promoting new behaviours.
  5. Gradually convince people to change.
  6. Free new behaviours.
  7. Make this change one department at a time.
  8. Make departments talk to each other.
  9. Create a culture of transparency.


This is easier to launch in a start-up organization than an existing company, especially a large one. While this approach may seem futuristic, it is possible to launch with the right people and the right approach.


Reprinted with the permission of Matt Shlosberg, Managing Director of Hanna Concern. Matt has assisted dozens of multinational corporations and governments solve complex business problems. Author of several books and a leading authority on strategy and organization, Matt received his MBA from the University of Maryland at College Park (Robert H. Smith School of Business) and completed executive education programs at
Cornell, University of Notre Dame, and INSEAD. www.hcglobal.com

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