“Form Follows Function” is a term coined in the worlds of art and architecture however it provides a great route for leaders to direct necessary, positive and continual successful change in organizations. The phrase essentially suggests that your primary function – your purpose, ideals, strategic goals, systems – defines your organization. Your form is what your clients see or perceive such as customer experience, client compassion, a vibrant business culture for your employees, the product your produce or even your building. Your ability and success in adjusting and adapting to the ever-changing marketplace has to be rooted in your purpose.
In my first “career” out of college I was fortunate to work with a team of brilliant food service facility consultants and designers, and when tapped to be the lead draftsperson for the top two executives in the firm I learned first-hand the value of form follows function. Projects such as the venerable Windows on the World, The White House, Atlanta International Airport, the famed Arnaud’s restaurant in New Orleans, food courts at major malls all around the country, even IBM’s many corporate office in-house cafeterias and executive dining rooms were all opportunities for lessons in this theory. Being very clear on the purpose of the facility, the vision and goals of the owner/operator, the market it was serving and the environment is was being built in all contributed to the ultimate design – or “form”, and the operation succeeding.
I can’t tell you how many projects we worked on that were rebuilds required because the prior design did not incorporate the primary function of the facility. It was a considerable part of our business – fixing grand scale restaurants, commissaries, hotel food and beverage operations and even Mom and Pop establishments that became a “monument” to someone or something and not to the ultimate purpose it was meant to serve.
An enterprise that has shed itself of bureaucratic structure and replaced it with a defining purpose and strategic driven decision making is clearly going to be a winner. Being able to prepare your team to embrace modifications as your customers, products, equipment or services change will allow your organization to leave your competitors in the dust as they struggle to adapt their hierarchies to become more functional in the face of new market realities. Strategic leadership that encourages change without losing sight of its core purpose will more easily and effectively adapt to the volatility of the business marketplace today.
Your job as the leader of a form follows function culture is to set the standard, establish systems and training to reflect your vision of the corporate function. Using this methodology, as you add new members to your team they will quickly be up to speed and replicate your core function over and over, leaving you in a position to keep your focus on defining the necessary changes to remain current and competitive and growing your company or organization.
Finally, by creating an open flow of information reflecting the changing environment, you are cultivating a collaborative and empowered team that will in turn recommend, embrace and modify behaviors based on the evidence of necessary variation. In being a leader who adopts timely and relevant adjustments throughout the life of an organization you will produce a positive, efficient and effective business, of course never losing sight of your primary function!