The Six Nations Model

I’ve mentioned the Six Nations governance model before, as described in the book, Systems Thinking: Managing Chaos and Complexity, and am trying to align this with industrial-age corporations. Basically, I’m wondering how this pre-industrial governance structure could be used today. The author describes how it recently worked for the Oneida Nation. Could it be used elsewhere, or does it need a certain culture?

The Six Nations culture had given specific roles to its member tribes, namely Wolves (Pathfinders); Turtles (Problem Formulators); Bears (Problem Solvers). Solving problems (AKA governance) went like this:

  1. Wolves – Set direction, and identify relevant issues
  2. Turtles – Define the problems
  3. Bears – Generate alternatives and recommend solutions
  4. Turtles – Check on the potency of the recommended solutions
  5. Wolves – Integrate the solutions, keep the records, communicate the decisions

Could this be incorporated into a legal corporate structure (for profit or non-profit) and if so, would it differ from a governance structure with a Board of Directors, CEO and various executives?

The advantages I see with this governance model is that power is distributed but the roles are clear. It also builds in peer reflection through the process.

One Response to “The Six Nations Model”

  1. Harold Jarche

    Another quote from the book:
    “Using different attributes and characteristics for each of the three symbols of turtle, wolf and bear, the culture, to its credit, had identified and separated the three distinct roles of pathfinder, problem formulator, and problem solver. The role played by the wolves is that of pathfinder / synthesizer. Wolves display purposeful behavior by setting the direction, dealing with the “why” questions, identifying relevant issues, and defining the agenda and context before they are presented to the turtles, the problem formulators, to define them. The defined problems are, in turn, passed on by the turtles to the bears, the problem solvers. Bears generate alternatives and recommend solutions. Solutions are returned to the turtles to check on their relevance and potency before referring them back to the wolves to check on their relevance. Wolves are finally responsible for integrating the solutions, keeping the records, and ratifying and communicating the final agreements. Wolves keep the fire alive by motivating and monitoring others.”


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