The Boundaries of Inclusion

I firmly believe that our transition will be driven by highly motivated small groups loosely linked around a common purpose. Large organisations, from Governments to Corporates, are too invested in what brought them to power, too slow, and too distant from those they serve. Entirely how this will manifest, I haven’t a clue, but that’s not the point right now.

The point is how we ensure that we have enough small groups, each a small part of that overall purpose, to link. That greater purpose? – The recovery of our humanity and our relationship with all those who inhabit the planet we are part of. Relationships, Responsibility. Reciprocity, Redistribution. The recovery of a thriving ecosystem. The alternative of continued mindless growth supervised by a few people who want to afford to play in space does not appeal.
It is the composition and the health of the small groups that is my focus. How do we create something that will enable them and link them without the hubris of thinking we can design them? What are the conditions that will allow them to emerge?

In “Who do we choose to be”, Margaret Wheatley explains that boundaries determine identity – no boundary, no identity. Nothing to contain information and process it. From the smallest cell to the cosmos, boundaries are the sense-making or information-processing function.

The relationship between cells is critical; the semi-permeable membrane that determines what is allowed in and out. Not enough, and the cell dies, too much, and it serves no purpose.

We face a challenge. What is the optimum size of a social group to be healthy – not too closed, not too open? The indications are that it depends on its function. But, from social science to systems science, there seems to be a consensus of sorts; five or six for purpose and strategy, ten to fifteen for diversity, thirty to fifty for collective energy, and an upper limit of one hundred and fifty, after which we get hierarchies and relative rigidity.

With these sorts of numbers, attention to composition is critical. They are not big enough to carry “passengers” – those who turn up but do not take part; a scene any of us who have been in business meetings recognise well. Or the progression of social media threads that quickly degenerate from a topic with potential for dialogue to a cacophony of angry people shouting at each other.

At these sorts of numbers, diversity moves from a tick box exercise on the composition of a group to something altogether more powerful – the diversity of a network.

Orchestrating small groups and networks becomes both science and art and a powerful, if background, leadership task. It is far more than getting people to play nicely.

When the pressure is on to be inclusive, and the easy get out is to pay lip service and the effectiveness of small groups critical to making the changes we need, small group leadership is perhaps one of the most vital tasks of the current time.

2 responses to “The Boundaries of Inclusion”

  1. Yes, yes, yes. I see this challenge framed within the metaphor of a complex living system like a coral reef. If we focus on attraction through value creation and “nutrient” exchange, then the right individuals will be attracted to participate. This is the opportunity for startups (#startwithWHO) — founder/team fit and founder/customer fit ensures that what gets created serves as a magnet for an entire emerging ecosystem. The challenge for existing companies is that they’re full of random people who weren’t chosen for value and identity-based resonance with the whole, but rather whether they checked the box on certain skill sets. If an existing organization wants to evolve to a living system metaphor, they’ll need to define the bounds of the system — who are we at our most authentic cores? What do we want to accomplish together? What’s in or out of the system? And allow self-selection to take its course, determining who leaves and who stays. BTW, John Morley says I need to chat with you 🙂 Based on what you write, I’d agree!


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