As my company works in the field of organisation design and navigate through the milieu of Agile, Lean, Matrix, Sociocracy and Requisite, I thought a blog on the evolution of structure might be a good idea for providing a balanced view on this topic.
Before starting an evolutionary journey I just want to say organising to get stuff done is a very old human past time. Structures have evolved over time and mirror our culture. Culture itself is shaped by human memes, the social equivalent of genes. The first person to understand this was Dr Clare Graves and his ideas were picked up Dr Don Beck who clearly enunciated in the work Spiral Dynamics. Ken Wilbur later also climbed onto this band wagon.
Culture evolves over time and memes are packages of cultural information (containing templates of fashion, social etiquette, art, design, laws, work, customs, beliefs etc) – our social DNA. We as individuals all carry our social meme package. We can shift between our meme package, but normally have a dominant operating set of values. Not unexpectedly, this has a major impact in business.
The ideas of memes shaping organisational design have reemerged thanks to Laloux’s book and the so called ‘Teal’ Organisations. While sadly a gross over simplification of the actual evolution of design, it is a step towards understanding how memes shape structure. So here is our journey (thanks Don)
Millions of year to present…
1 – Band – beige. Maslow’s base of his pyramid – survival – food, water, shelter – Maslow and Graves were contemporaries who argued bitterly about what actualisation meant. – Organisation here was protection and duties assigned by stronger members to ensure food, safety, warmth, procreation. Hunter-gathering – band moved with seasons and food availability.Technology evolved slowly and bands were primary form of structure to get work done and survive.
Transition to next value system took place over millions of years, as we evolved culturally and technologically, but arrived with domestication of plants and animals and first permanent settlements.
2 – Tribe – Purple. oldest of values systems – organising for safety. Circular around clan, tribe. Decision making guided by elders, shaman or chief. Seen as distinct group or tribe – best to deal with threats and focus on survival of tribe / group. Roles determined by age, gender, kinship and power. Ritual important for coherence and protection. This meme is still very active and has evolved into sport. nationalism etc .
3. Empire – Red. power gods – leader is all powerful, organised on favour, fear, domination. emergence of strong egos, self more powerful then group, confront dangers and conquers, struggles over niches, exploitative systems. Big boss rules through other bosses; communication downwards only, relationships governed by ‘how can I gain?” Modern glimpse – mafia, motorcycles gangs, warlords, despots/dictators.
18th Century to present…. Transition to next value system took place with arrival of industrialsation; People needed in cities and development rapid as we evolved culturally and technologically. Huge conflict as memes battle for dominance – eg US Civil War, Russian Revolution, Anglo – Boer War, China. Agricultural Waves vs Industrial Ages.
4. Authority Structure – Blue, order and progress. First memes of the Industrial Age. Arrival of the hierarchy – ability to organise on huge scale and assemble resources for mass production. Hierarchy brings scalability – communication downwards and across, people in role – occupy rightful place, wait turn and obey orders. Person with appropriate positional power makes decisions. Efficiency and production, but rigid rules for structures, roles and rank.
Figure I: The older but still very active memes and their structures for getting stuff done
4. Strategic Enterprise – Orange – Materialistic/Achiever – Strive Drive. Bureaucratic and status / power orientated; delegated authorities, communication up, down and across, but evolves… drives results and outcomes, highly competitive. Seeks best solutions, but resource intensive and wasteful. Hierarchy evolves into adaptable and flexible structures. Status orientated – allows for quick upward mobility and creativity. Durable and powerful Org design structure, gains global popularity for getting stuff done.
1960’s to Present…
5. Social Networks – Green – Sociocentric – Human Bond – this meme burst onto the stage with the failure/successes and excesses of consumerism and materialism (Orange meme). Excesses of hierarchy gives rise to experimentation with this new egalitarian meme which values community, sharing, inner harmony, the team, well-being, balance and collaboration. New org models, concerned with equals working for mutual benefit; deny concerns with status and benefits; matrix, sociocracy, holocracy, self managed teams; ‘the people’. Leadership and hierarchy not in favour; group consensus, flat structure and the team are in.
1980’s to Present…
(TEAL of Laloux’s organisation sits between Green and Yellow.)
6. Systemic Flow – Yellow – integrative – Flex Flow – this new meme arises due to Green’s inability to resolve and deal with complexity. Org seen through systems lenses. Structure as needed; according to task at hand; Project based; changing functional leadership with decision making. Connected, fluid, adaptable, intensely pragmatic, technological savvy, does what works – including partnerships, alliances; walk away from what does not. Agile and Requisite evolve, now based on natural organic hierarchy of complexity. Shared values sought with ecosystems.
7. Holistic Organism – searches for holistic solutions (ecosystem) and guiding principles, the order underneath apparent chaos. blends consensus, competency in global perspective, focus information for insights and greater good. Able to move quickly, each entity is microcosm of larger system. Shared values require no harm, zero waste, circular, share. Social businesses with global thinking and collective actions. Structure as required by the nature of things…
Figure 2 : Active and Emergent Memes and their structures for getting stuff done…
- All org designs have aspects that work; some are robust, principles understood and do work; spot the evolutionary growth of each and don’t discard the good stuff.
- Ascertain your culture by looking at what memes are dominant (easy, check the CEO and executive; that’s the windsock to your structure).
- Digital transformation depends on yellow, orange and green memes, but mostly yellow.
- Oh and of course; people choose products and services according to their dominant memes, but how many marketers know this instinctively? Sort your products and marketing to meme segments