Unlike the usual business books, Frederic Laloux's 'Reinventing organizations' invites readers to evolve their view of work roles and places to create a newer and kinder way of working. Describing organizational structures from the viewpoint of developmental theory, belief systems, and worldviews, Laloux embarks on a journey to answer fundamental questions about the world of work and future organizational structures. Are there better, more fulfilling, and soulful ways to arrange organizational structures? If so, what do these organizations look like, and how do we bring them to life?
I suspect Laloux had a hunch the answer to his first query was a 'yes' when he embarked on his research. Reinventing Organizations delivers examples of a range of businesses working in kinder and more accepting ways and provides a framework that new and existing organizations can follow or adapt to build or bring about change within their own companies.
From hierarchical structure to devolved power systems
Laloux begins by explaining the various iterations of humanity's development, concluding that most organizations today are run with an 'Achievement' worldview. From this perspective, innovation, keeping ahead of the competition, and aiming to run a business similar to a 'well-oiled machine' makes sense. Every person has their place in an organization, working both cooperatively and independently of the other parts.
'Evolutionary' organizations, on the other hand, see themselves as integrated, continually changing, adapting, and self-managing living structures. There is no-one at the helm pulling leavers or steering toward a brave new future. Every cell can affect change and is vital to the health of the entire system. In these kinds of organizations, individuals join the higher cause that enables them to 'punch above their weight,' achieving outcomes they would never have managed on their own and developing new ways of being.
Initially, this kind of thinking appears to be rooted firmly in utopic fantasy. Yet, through the analysis of 12 very different companies across disparate industries – manufacturing to community nursing, education to running electrical grids – the author shows us that organizations can effectively and profitably pioneer self-management, wholeness, and evolutionary purpose in the workplace.
These self-managed organizations have no power struggles because the power reserved for top players in 'Achievement organizations' has been entirely devolved. Everything from purchasing decisions to pay, hiring, training, firing, performance assessments, and more have been handed over to its members. No-one and everyone hold the power in self-managed organizations. Paradoxically, the organization becomes more powerful and more agile than could ever been previously possible.
Most organizations today base their structure, rules, and policies on a set of assumptions. Sometimes overt and at other times inferred by how these organizations are run; workers are assumed to be lazy, only interested in remuneration, self-interested above all else, and incapable of making the right decisions.
These assumptions are in line with Douglas McGregor's 'Theory X' of management and place employees in the role of reluctant servants. Their ideas, aspirations, and personal purpose have little value in such a structure. Their worth comes only from what they can produce.
Self-managed organizations dance to a different tune. Their systems and processes are based on a drastically different set of beliefs. There are no unimportant people, and no-one holds controlling power.