Building Sustainable Legacies

Designing the Organization of the Future

Imagine an organization that brings out the best in people and removes the undesired weight of constant decision-making from those in charge. An organization driven and aligned by purpose, supported by a structure that distributes the power to the project teams that know best, ideally resulting in a massive reduction of stress for everybody. Is such a thing possible?

What happens if we start asking entirely different questions about the organization? If we shift from “how much” to questions such as: “what for”, “why” and “how”? We wanted to explore just that, so Christiane Seuhs-Schoeller and the LiFT team invited Frederic Laloux (“Reinventing Organizations”, Belgium), Christian Felber (“Economy for the Common Good”, Austria) and Tom Thomison (“Holacracy”, US) to Vienna last week.

More than a hundred keen participants joined us in a 1.5 day workshop event in Vienna. The first half a day was spent listening to global thought leaders debating the issue, the second day was spent in the Vienna IMPACT HUB figuring out how each of us could explore and advance these ideas in our own organizational realities. We used the Collaboratory methodology for the process. The outcome? YES, it is possible to design such new organizations, AND we cannot rebuild the world in one day!

Starting with the purpose questionChristian Felber from the Economy for the Common Good was most helpful in framing the challenge. He defined the five relevant dimensions an organization can consider when figuring out how to best contribute a positive value for the society it operates in. These dimensions are based on the constitutional foundations of most Western Societies: human dignity, collaboration and solidarity, ecological sustainability, social justice, and democratic co-determination / transparency. An organization can evaluate its contribution to these five dimensions of societal well-being by looking at how it lives these for each of its relevant stakeholder groups. The result is the Common Good Matrix. An inspiring and eye-opening exercise we have just completed at BSL.

Certain philosophers and psychologists believe that individuals advance through developmental stages in their life, from early childhood, to adolescence, to early adulthood, maturity and old age. Similarly, some claim that the same logic applies to societies and organizations. This worldview thus implies that organizational forms adopt themselves to reflect the increasingly advanced ways of collaborating and co-creating together. While most of us will not find it difficult to agree that organizational forms have advanced from super hierarchies such as “one-person at the top” organizations best illustrated by Mafia-like tribal organizations and highly structured and unquestioned hierarchical forms such as can be seen in the church or the military. Since, the multinational organization (MNC) with its decentralized, matrix organizational form has dominated the corporate business world’s modus operandi in the past decades. We have also observed attempts of more participatory models that have removed all hierarchy and power structures – some succeeded, many failed. Frederic Laloux now claims that we are on the verge of yet another organizational form which will define the future of organizations: a new, more soulful way of running organizations.

 

Last but not least, we not only discussed but also experienced just how important an effective structure is to ensure successful self-organization. Otherwise, we end up just talking for hours – which tires out even the biggest enthusiasts. Tom Thomison outlined how an emerging new organizational structure called Holacracy deals with this structure challenge and how an existing power hierarchy can be replaced with a more dynamic hierarchy that distributes power where it belongs, triggering important spouts in creativity and organizational effectiveness.

We have covered much ground in previous blogs this year and have ended up with haunting questions an organization might be asking itself, nicely in time for Halloween. As I am writing this blog, the United States celebrates Thanksgiving – saying thanks for the rich harvest of what was planted and has grown this year. It reminds me of the underlying philosophy of Appreciate Inquiry – a powerful way to identify and focus on the best in people, organizations and the world around them. The Vienna Collaboratory on the Future of Organizations left me with a strong taste of how just such a strength-based approach can indeed trigger insightful new ways of working together.

Artwork courtesy of Martina Närr Fuchs and Gabi Damm. Images author’s own.

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Author: Katrin Muff PhD

Dr. Katrin Muff is a thought leader in the transformative space of sustainability and responsibility. From 2008 to 2018, she led the Thought Leadership activities in the area of conceptual design at Business School Lausanne, where she acted as Dean from 2008-2015 until self-organization made such a title redundant. Under her leadership, the school focused its vision on entrepreneurship, responsibility and sustainability in education and research. Her business experience includes 10 years at ALCOA (GM in Russia, Industry Analyst for Global M&A in the U.S. and Business Analyst Europe), 3 years as Director, Strategic Planning EMEA at IAMS Europe (Procter&Gamble), and 3 years as a co-founder of Yupango, a coaching consultancy dedicated to start-ups and training management teams.

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