A look at organizations as living systems
What do you think about when you think of your organization? Is it the organization logo? Your desk? The meetings? A certain client?
Start thinking about work with a broader perspective. Your organization is an organism, part of a bigger context like with clients, cooperation partners, or mother earth. It is also a system consisting of interdependent parts, like yourself and all of your coworkers.
Your organization is alive and therefore changes. It has to keep up, grow and be fluid. The organization regenerates continuously, not just for itself, but for the entire system it’s part of, using its own framework.
One of the organizations that I’m a part of is Energized.org. We support organizations to unlock power for their purposes. Inspired by nature, we consider Energized Organizations to be living organisms that embrace change as default, become stronger from events (anti-fragile), and add value to the system it’s part of (purpose).
So what do Energized Organizations do?
#1 Invite Purpose to the Table
People get together in an organization to create an impact. The purpose is the attractive vector. So purpose should have something to say. Like what the work is, that needs to be done to move in the right direction.
If the purpose is the vector, consider the purpose to be the boss. At Energized.org we believe in creating a hiërarchy of purposes. Those purposes all require a certain type of work to be done. That’s what we call roles. It’s different from your usual job description because you can fill several roles and take ownership more dynamically. For example, if the purpose of the organization needs great software, you can fill the roles ‘Copy’ and ‘Branding’. And maybe colleague Joe fills ‘Copy’ too. When you’re done, you give back the roles. And move on with whatever the purpose needs.
People bring their energy (note: energy = information) to the organization. Research shows that meaning is the most important factor for job satisfaction (Danish job satisfaction index 2019).
Therefore, it really really helps the purpose of the organization if the purposes of its people are clearly aligned with the work the organization needs. That’s when all people move in the same direction and nothing is holding anyone back. The right purpose is the beating heart of the organization that lets the energy flow.
Often it is the purpose of the founder that becomes the purpose of the organization. Tim Kelley from the True Purpose Institute devoted all his knowledge and energy to learning business leaders to find their purposes. (the purpose-organogram free download). Because as it turns out; it requires some brave and bold decision-making to lead an organization on purpose.
#2 Change the Rule Book
We’re used to having bosses and management hiërarchies. They’ve been serving us well ever since the Industrial Revolution. But… work changed, the world changed and people changed their relationship to work.
With purpose being the boss, you need new rules. Rules that give authority and space for leadership to the people representing purposes. People are the sensors of the organization and can bring improvements a long way. All they need is a pathway to process what they think could be better. That’s what we call tensions, and everyone owns them.
One rule set for self-organization is Holacracy. We love it. This practice also evolves and is well tested. It’s a tool and a practice. Holacracy has a complete rule book that defines the way roles (not the people) work in the organization. The rule book is called the constitution. In the latest version (5.0) you can pick whatever parts you consider urgent and important to start with. That provides time for unlearning and learning. In the end, it’s all wired, so you benefit most by continuing the journey till you got all parts.
In Holacracy you separate role from the soul. So as a role filler you serve the purpose of the organization. It’s not about you personally. Instead, you’re part of the team that is on a mission. Separating role and soul is really a boost for your collaboration. And although you can separate them, one does not go without the other.
#3 Talk the team talk
In nowadays work, you need to be able to change teams quickly. All these awesome people in your team also have their personal relations. Those relations survive, transform and develop to deal with internal and external change.
This might be the hardest part. When transparency increases, differences arise. Dealing with differences is a skill people never finish learning. But make sure to start practicing today.
Teams can learn how to thrive by dealing with differences differently. It’s team development work that requires communication skills and awareness of all groups’ phases of development. Changing the rule book, inviting purpose to the table, are all big differences. Process them so the differences become nutrients that serve the organization and your relationships. And the way to do so is to talk, and have meaningful conversations. Communication is one of the most underestimated skills in organizations. So take some time and training to master it.
Work is the awesome impact your team has on the world around you. It isn’t easy to free it up from bureaucracy and personal struggles. But with the right tools, you’re in charge of freeing it up and creating abundance.
Pop the bubble
So you’re here. You might know about organizations where the purpose has a seat at the table, teams develop, and decision-making is defined structurally. Many people just go with the flow and build traditional organizations. Let’s show them an alternative.
I work in the field of organizational development. What I’m not good at is becoming a specialist. Therefore, I’m not a Holacracy expert. Consider me a fire starter. A zero to one person. Or a pollinator. I can start with nothing, turn on the light and create. I’m here to bring new and more vigorous life to your organization.