Anarchists in the Boardroom

“I remember regularly reiterating the question, while out at the pub with fellow disillusioned colleagues, or after conferences with newfound allies from other dysfunctional NGOs, How have we ended up creating organisations that are meant to create good in the world, but make so many of those involved in them so miserable in the process?” – Liam Barrington-Bush

Anarchists in the Boardroom, by Liam Barrington-Bush, is a comprehensive read showing how organizations can apply the 3 principles of ‘more like people’ organizations:

  1. Humanity: What can we learn from ourselves?
  2. Autonomy: Trusting ourselves and others to be brilliant
  3. Complexity: Moving from cogs to consciousness

anarchismAnarchists in the Boardroom covers individual change, work change, and structure change in a very detailed manner. The intended audiences are non-profit organizations. The book describes 5 reasons why hierarchies suck: assume the worst in people; foster dishonesty; expect leaders to be superheroes; waste time; lack of context for decision-makers. It then goes on to show alternatives.

“Humanity, autonomy and complexity can offer us some guidance as to the steps each of us might take to influence better working cultures. Complexity tells us that culture change cannot be orchestrated, given the number of interdependent relationships it would have to shift, but that cultures move based on any of those individual relationships changing themselves in a way that resonates more widely.”

The book finishes with practical advice on how to get started, and provides a long list of specific actions. The personal changes are pragmatic but the work and structural changes have to be done by those in power. While hierarchies may suck, they exist and they have great influence. This book would be best for people who have the power to change organizations. There are plenty of anecdotes and references in its 274 pages and it is worth adding to your inventory of organizational change books.

Here’s one of the stories that Liam shares:

Why an NGO funded a cock-fighting ring in Honduras
So the story goes like this:

An NGO wanted to build a school in a rural community in Honduras. Educational attainment was low there and the opportunities for schooling were minimal, so the choice seemed to make sense.
But when it was proposed to the community, the women of the pueblo came out against it.
The NGO staffers asked the women what they would prefer. Their answer? A cock-fighting ring.
The staff got uncomfortable, but asked why a cock- fighting ring would be of more benefit than a school.
Apparently, the next village over had a cock-fighting ring. On Fridays, after work, all the men in the village would take their pay and head to the neighbouring town and gamble away their income, often returning home empty-handed.
Because of this the children had to work, otherwise the families often wouldn’t eat.
So what would a school do, besides sit empty as the children made up for their fathers’ gambling habits?
The women proposed they could run the local cock- fighting ring cooperatively, so their husband’s losses could be reincorporated into the community. With a bit more money staying locally, their children would not have to work, thus paving the way for education, once hunger was no longer an issue.
Reluctantly, the brave NGO agreed, financing the new cock-fighting ring, and trusting the wisdom of the community, against their own – or their donors’ – best judgments from afar.

3 Responses to “Anarchists in the Boardroom”

  1. Liam Barrington-Bush

    Thanks so much Harold!

    Interesting that you specifically mention the different kinds of change that make sense for different levels of staff. This is probably the area where I feel my thinking has progressed most since writing the book.
    Here’s a later pamphlet I wrote, looking at DIY organisational change, if of interest:

  2. Julie Gosling

    An interesting and provocative tale which reminds me that we often impose our moral judgments from very privileged and blinkered positions.

    There was also the conference on global poverty, where a delegate passionately pleaded that his colleagues look around them; at the global diversity of cleaners, waiters and caretakers serving the event and their hotel requirements. ‘We are’ he said ‘surrounded by the poor of the earth!’ As a mark of solidarity, the liberal minded participants made the unequivocal decision to all clean their own shoes and make their own beds. The next day, the entire conference and hotel staff, acting with one accord, walked out on strike …..

    I am mindful to knock gently on the doors of others and walk carefully within their space, respect the wisdom of others and see the world through many eyes.


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