Move the hierarchy to the rear

In an environment where everyone is a leader, some other mechanism needs to be put in place to ensure that everyone can maintain and optimize the tenets of fairness, trust and transparency so the entire organization can move forward. —Harrison Monarth: HBR

The foundation for this ‘other mechanism’ is the wirearchy framework: a dynamic two-way flow of power and authority based on knowledge, trust, credibility and a focus on results, enabled by interconnected people and technology.” But what is the mechanism and why is it important to have an environment where everyone can be a leader? After all, most leaders are quite comfortable where they are. They worked hard to get there, didn’t they?

Evolution is on the side of those who cooperate.

“We found evolution will punish you if you’re selfish and mean. For a short time and against a specific set of opponents, some selfish organisms may come out ahead. But selfishness isn’t evolutionarily sustainable.” —The Independent; 5 April 2014

Hierarchies have diminishing usefulness as complexity increases.

At the point at which the collective complexity reaches the complexity of an individual, the process of complexity increase encounters the limitations of hierarchical structures. Hierarchical structures are not able to provide a higher complexity and must give way to structures that are dominated by lateral interactions. —Complexity Rising

Lateral organization is increasing in every workplace touched by the internet, but it needs trust and a strong culture to work.

I once asked Dr. Ed Lawler, an expert on the high-involvement form [lateral organization], why it had not become the dominant type of organization. He speculated that it was a fragile form. It needs trust and a strong culture to work. Any crisis can knock a lateral high-involvement firm back into hierarchical mode. Lateral may be better, but if it is inherently unstable we cannot expect it to become the norm. —Dale Creelman

Trust and a strong work culture are missing in many (hierarchical) organizations today.

Gallup’s research (2011) places 71% of U.S. workers as either not engaged or actively disengaged …

In 2011 , WIQ calculated that mistrust is costing companies between 14% to 18% revenue loss, and 17% to 24% loss of profitability. —The Hard Cost of Low Trust 2013

Letting people manage themselves actually works.

Such an approach enables people to control their own destinies. From a Darwinian perspective, it’s [radical decentralization] aligned with the urgings of our selfish genes. From a market perspective, it’s more efficient and effective. From a cultural perspective, virtually every organizational innovation since the Western Electric Hawthorne studies has been aimed at fostering democracy and initiative in the workplace because it’s good for both people and the business. Moving to an entrepreneurial organization is just the next step. —Charles Jacobs: Management Rewired

What happens to societies will most likely happen to business and organizations.

The mass societies had many more decisions to make, and no way of making them in the old, egalitarian way. Their huge numbers made any attempt at discussing the question as equals impossible, so the only ones that survived and flourished were the ones that became brutal hierarchies. Tyranny was the solution to what was essentially a communications problem.

Fast forward ten thousand years, and give these societies mass communications. You don’t have to wait for Facebook; just invent the printing press. Wait a couple of hundred years while literacy spreads, and presto! We can all talk to one another again, after a fashion, and the democratic revolutions begin. —Gwynne Dyer

There are at least four ‘other mechanisms’ for the network era. A strong hierarchy is not one of them.

  1. Loose hierarchies
  2. Literal democracy – voting for your boss
  3. Outsourcing through specialized guilds
  4. Markets within organizations

Thomas Malone: The Future of Work

Connected leadership is helping the network make better decisions.

Solving problems is what most knowledge workers are hired to do. But complex problems usually cannot be solved alone. They require the sharing of tacit knowledge, which cannot easily be put into a manual. Tacit knowledge flows best in trusted networks. Trust promotes individual autonomy and this becomes a foundation for social learning. Without trust, few are willing to share their knowledge. An effective knowledge network also cultivates the diversity and autonomy of each worker. Connected leaders foster deeper connections, developed through ongoing and meaningful conversations. They understand the importance of tacit knowledge in solving complex problems. Connected leaders know they are just a node in the network and not a position in a hierarchy.


Image by @gapingvoid

Related: Hierarchies are obsolete

3 Responses to “Move the hierarchy to the rear”

  1. Madeline Paterson

    “Evolution is on the side of those who cooperate.” Agree totally.
    The trends that you describe are getting faster and faster. We all have to keep up and help others to keep up with this. We need to contribute to life, business and society on things that really matter.


Leave a Reply

  • (will not be published)