Gaming the system – hmmpff. That’s for scoundrels, for scallywags – right? Perhaps. And let us not look to gangster films for inspiration. But – we can learn a thing or two from these gamers. After all – what they’re doing yields results – quick, measurable, worth-your-time results. And couldn’t we all stand to play that game?

So what’s on the light side of gaming the system? When I talk about a system, I’m not talking tech (I still struggle with the two remotes for our HD TV). Nope – for me the system is what encapsulates the world of our work – the structure of our organization, the processes that drive us, the rewards we strive to achieve, etc. (For the academics out there, I am indeed a Galbraith loyalist).

And these elements all exist for one reason only – to enable our teams to deliver outstanding work. Without our people, there is no need for a system. So why, so often, are these very elements of the system — whose purpose is to help us — the things that actually obstruct us? Processes are broken; hierarchy promotes politics, bottlenecking decisions; and rewards drive competition, hindering collaboration. And all of these realities combine to make my case for the idea of making work… work better.

When we take the time and make the space to really understand our system, and identify the simplest ways to drive incremental improvements, what we’re really making space for is more: more efficiency, more innovation, more customer delight.

What I’m describing above is Organization Design. However, I’m advocating for an approach that requires the old way to step aside and make room for the new kid in town.

Traditional Organization Design focuses a great deal on academic expertise and significant amounts of data collection and analysis, all culminating in a set of recommendations defining the “ideal” organization. But the process is long and arduous, often leading to significant reorganization and upheaval, and it’s essentially a one-shot deal. So you’d better get it right.

What I’m arguing for here is a new approach to gaming the system; One that leverages the 10 Keys to Making Work Work Better; One that values real, ongoing dialog between leaders and teams – that values the expertise of the actual people in the actual system doing the work, over the expertise of consultants who design organizations; One that makes space for iteration and experimentation and a journey of small increments.

What I’m arguing for here is a new approach… that makes space for iteration and experimentation and a journey of small increments.

My prediction and my hope is that consultancies focused on building this capability – on helping leaders and their teams continuously co-design the right system for them over time, will be the consultancies sought out in 2017 and beyond; not the consultancies positioned to tell you the answer.

More to come on what this capability looks like, and how it can best be developed and leveraged.

But today we begin by setting the stage.