I think that we are in the midst of a big cultural turning, and the basic paradigms behind the way we structure and operate organizations are changing. The more I talk with people and learn about organizations, the more convinced I am of the gradual, awkward steps that we are taking in this transition.
When I interviewed Kay Pranis last fall, she said:
"We are going from a Newtonian physics model of organizations and how we treat one another to a Quantum physics model. All of our relationships, all of our institutions--families, churches, schools, justice, social service, are all structured in the Newtonian physics model. Those structures have a life of their own that keeps reasserting itself."
In the book, Theory U, Otto Scharmer, says that life in many of our contemporary organizations is like working in Enron or East Germany shortly before those institutions fell. We know that the institution (and the worldview behind it) has started to collapse. At the same time, most of us are still denying the reality of that collapse. The book came out before the current economic downturn, but even after these economic changes, my impression is that most organizations are still thinking of this recession as a blip in the longer-term continuation of ever expanding economic growth and hierarchy as it has been.
David Korten, in his book, The Great Turning, says that current crisises are presenting us the opportunity to replace the paradigm of Empire with one of Earth Community. The values of Earth Community are based on sustainable, just, and caring communities which incorporate mutual responsibility and accountability.
In my limited experience, the glimpses of the kinds of organizations that are emerging are fleeting and hard to grasp on to.
I think that the form of organizing and governing called Holacracy, is offering some experiments in rethinking organizations according in ways to fit with emerging dynamics of mutual leadership and accountability. The book, The Starfish and the Spider: The Unstoppable Power of Leaderless Organizations, also captures some of how decentralized but cohesive organizations are emerging. I think both of these examples are helpful, but I also think they are very partial perspectives of what is emerging. I think they both miss some of the ethical, spiritual, and political dimensions of dynamics that are emerging.
In some ways we are seeking to step forward, in other ways, we are seeking to return to ancient and sustainable ways of organizing ourselves--relying more on the land, elders, and traditions that we came from. I don't think that a healthy "Earth Community" version of this evolution is inevitable, but I do believe that it is a future wanting to emerge, which we can help bring about.
This year, I'm grateful to be working with the FATHER Project. I think this project reflects one part of this evolving way of doing organizations. The FATHER Project is based on a deep partnership between many different nonprofit and government organizations, all working out of one site. The identity of who "owns" the project is shared by many organizations, not just the "lead organization" (Goodwill/Easter Seals). I think this depth of collaboration is one characteristic of organizational structures that are emerging.
Do you see institutional crumbling happening around you? Do you see any glimpses of new organizational life coming out of those ashes?