Agile Atelier

Episode 31: Organizational Complexity and Living Systems with Niels Pflaeging

Agile Atelier podcast listeners! Welcome to the first episode of the year! I hope 2021 finds you well and ready for some fascinating topics and guest speakers that we have in store for you in this new year. Today, I have the pleasure of speaking to Niels Pflaeging on the topic of Organizational Complexity and Living Systems. Niels offers thought-provoking, conceptual and radical ideas as a speaker, while helping organizations with triggering, mapping and leading profound and robust change initiatives as a highly effective advisor. Niels is the author of seven books, including Leading with Flexible Targets. Beyond Budgeting in Practice, which was awarded the Financial Times Germany Best Business Book award in 2006, and his latest book – Essays on Beta, Vol. 1: What’s now & next in organizational leadership, transformation and learning.

In this episode, we start off by chatting about how organizations and its leaders can move beyond command-and-control patterns, and towards decentralization without a predominantly centralized steering approach, like in a market economy. Niels gives examples of how practices within frameworks like Scrum and Kanban have been wrongly placed next to command-and-control practices. We then explore the cell-structure design, which is central to Niels’ transformation work and the differences between central cells and periphery cells. Finally, we wrap up the episode by discussing OpenSpace Beta, timeboxing organizational development, traditional change management, communities of problems, and organizational hygiene. This conversation with Niels has been personally quite thought-provoking and gives me lots of new and, to a certain extent, radical ideas to explore. I cannot think of a better guest to start the new year with.

In this episode, Niels had mentioned the BetaCodex Network website, Handelsbanken, as well as a list of book recommendations. You can connect with Niels on Twitter and LinkedIn, and learn more about his past work on his YouTube channel.

The cell-structured design
Episode 31: Organizational Complexity and Living Systems with Niels Pflaeging

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Our impulse is to think about targets, strategy, plans, incentives, direction, [and] alignment, [which are] all command-and-control and steering practices. Let’s imagine we take them away. What pushes you to do the work? The answer is very simple: clients. That is how de-centralization works. It means taking the steering authority away from the bosses and outsourcing the steering to the market.


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