Regular readers of this blog will be familiar with integral values at the leading edge of values change today, with roughly 2-3% of people in affluent countries holding them – those familiar with Spiral Dynamics will know them as “yellow.” The headline description of integrals for me is “making a difference.” And a key characteristic is that they are “second-tier” in Spiral terms, meaning they are a values cohort that does not believe their values are the right ones for everyone. Rather they access values that make the most sense given the particular situation, thus enabling them to make a difference.
I have wondered what an organization driven by integral values would look like in practice. Well, we have a preview in Frederic Laloux’s Reinventing Organizations. It is grounded in evolutionary and developmental theory, so we see the evolution of representative organizational forms from traditional to modern to postmodern to integral (and it’s endorsed by Ken Wilber — for fans of Integral Theory).
The research analyzed 12 organizations with a minimum of 100 people operating at least 5 years. The goal was to identify ways these integral organizations were different (or not) from those using conventional management methods. The “meat” of the argument for me is his identification of three breakthroughs of integral organizations:
- Self-management: peer relationships without the need for hierarchy or consensus
- Wholeness: bring all of who we are to work
- Evolutionary purpose: listen and understand what the organization wants to become
Some of the key characteristics (that caught my attention):
- There are very few people working in staff functions.
- With no middle management and little staff, organizations can dispense with control mechanisms and rely on trust
- No org chart, no job description, no job titles — people don’t have a job, but fill a number of granular roles
- Almost all organizations in this research use the advice process, in which, in principle, any person in the organization cam make any decision, but before doing so, that person must seek advice from all affected parties and people with expertise on that matter
- Research shows that when people pursue a meaningful purpose, when they have decision making power and resources to work toward that purpose – they don’t need pep talks or stretch targets
There always a catch…..the “necessary conditions” are that top leadership and ownership must be integral. He found that efforts to bring integral practices into subsets of organizations (with support of top leadership and ownership) bear fruit, at best, for a short while. He suggests that if vertical transformation is a lost cause, horizontal transformation is an option, e.g., influencing from an unhealthy to healthy orange. [Personally, I have found this a useful approach and much better than despair!]
A bit of an aside is that it made me think that an implication of the integral organization is that self-management doesn’t need the information control tools (e.g., surveillance) that we fear. It’s about the wise use of tools, and that it is the perspective that informs their use that is critical. The fear about how AI/Big Data/Singularity is going to be “bad” stems from the perspective that is thinking about it. In organizations driven by fear, it makes sense that new technologies would be interpreted through that lens.
One concern I had was that most of the comparisons in the book are between integral and modern organizations. I suspect that modern was used since that describes the dominant organizational form today. But can we jump over postmodern forms and land directly in integral? As I recall from my reading of Wilber’s Integral Psychology, there are “costs” in trying to skip a stage.
He includes the Bucky Fuller quote ““you never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.” That seems particularly relevant here. We talk a lot about the tradeoffs between working within the existing system, and deciding when it’s time to work outside of it – to push for transformation to something new, and this book provides us models of something new. It’s an exciting book! Andy Hines