I wonder why so many organisations at the moment seem discordant, out of tune and incoherent?
How do organisations that start with a clear message, close teams, and solid internal and external relationships find their way to bickering, blaming, and bullying to achieve their ends?
Conventional wisdom points towards leadership, purpose, engagement, and other areas that can conveniently provide consulting opportunities, but I wonder if these are just symptoms of something more fundamental – size?
I like Alan Watkin’s work on coherence – it has a simple, usable elegance. His model shown here is one I often find valuable as a reference framework when thinking through a problem, and I find it valuable here. Whilst his model is based on us humans, I believe there are also lessons for organisations, starting with physiology – the foundation of how they deliver. For example, health determines our emotions, or “energy in motion.” That energy in an organisation, positive or negative, feeds feelings, which in turn determine thinking and determines behaviour and performance.
So how might the size of an organisation affect its health? Robin Dunbar’s research work tells us that, as individuals, we cannot handle more than one hundred and fifty personal relationships. Beyond that, we have to organise, which takes us towards structures and, inevitably, hierarchies. Priya Parkers work suggests the same, more anecdotally. Our own day to day experience mostly reinforces that – no matter how large the organisations, we identify with those immediately surrounding us, physically and virtually. Perhaps left to organic development, rather than being forced by the commercial imperatives of scale, businesses and organisations would find harmonious and sustainable existence at this size? If, as a thought experiment, we considered this size – of no more than one hundred and fifty – as a cell, what would they evolve into?
Greg Satell’s work on how effective movements take hold centres on small groups loosely linked around a common purpose. Ernst Schumacher’s seminal work “small is beautiful” resonates today more than it did when it was published nearly half a century ago.
If we go back to physiology as the key determinant of performance, at what point do organisations fed purely on a diet of money cross the boundary into economic obesity and become toxic?
Perhaps the lesson is that we consider ways for organisations to grow more organically, around purpose as much as money, and look for emotional resonance as cold logic.
I’m noticing more evidence of this sort of organisation emerging – particularly in food and agriculture, from farm shops and farmers markets to more organised versions like BigBarn. Hybrid working offers the opportunity for work hubs, and the disruption caused by everything from the pandemic to climate asks us to find ways of doing more with less travelling.
It’s all a big ask, but something I find encouraging and exciting.
We spend too much of our lives at work for it not to resonate with our soul as much as our bank balance.