More Evolved Thinking About Organizations

These are exciting and encouraging times, if we can find the courage to allow them to be.


Almost since the time I entered the field of organization development I have been driven by the desire to help people bring more of who they are to the work they do. Nothing irks me more than hearing people talk about being one way at work and another way altogether when at home or with friends. Invariably, these people report that they leave some, often significant, part of themselves at the door when they enter the workplace.

How much are we missing out on and how much is lost because we don’t feel like we can be who we really are at work?

I find this tragic.

Over the summer I picked up a book called Reinventing Organizations by Frederic Laloux. I found it every bit as “spectacular” as its cover claimed it to be. Among other things, Laloux is an organizational researcher who took a look at twelve very different companies from around the world that all had one thing in common: they were successfully experimenting with new ways of organizing themselves to do their work.

I can’t possibly do justice to his ideas and discoveries in a single blog post, so I will draw attention the three breakthroughs Laloux found across these organizations. These breakthroughs move us beyond empowerment, being values-driven, and holding a multiple stakeholder perspective. Not that these aren’t good characteristics to have, but there’s more.

The breakthroughs are what start to bring organizations fully into the 21st century and enable them to engage with complexity, emergence, disruption, generativity, and being self-organizing. (And they make my point above about bringing your whole self to work.)

The first of these breakthroughs is self-management. Peer relationships create operational effectiveness with the result that traditional notions of hierarchy and the need for consensus fade into the background. This can be accomplished even at a large scale.

The second is wholeness. Doubt, vulnerability, emotion, intuition, and spirit all have equal place with masculine resolve, rationality, determination, and strength. A balance is created that leads to better decisions and a more complete strategic orientation.

And finally there is purpose. While we have been talking about purpose in organizations for a while (at least I have), this goes beyond answering the question “Why are we here?” to recognizing the organization has a life and sense of direction all its own, and that our job as members is to listen in and understand what it wants to become.

The way humans have chosen to organize themselves throughout history has reflected the prevailing thinking of the era. I’m optimistic we are on the verge of stepping into the next set of human capabilities, despite what some loud voices are proclaiming to the contrary.