Why do employees have to suffer in cheerless, hard-driving, demeaning workplaces? Where is it written that organizations have to be autocratic, bureaucratic, silos of competition? What makes founders of new companies and captains of industry hold onto the reigns of control as if the people they’ve hired are incompetent fools?

I understand the need to feel in control.  And I understand the fear of not succeeding and the fear that others will. These are human traits that some leaders are able to manage effectively but many others are not. Many leaders have great difficulty believing that their job is to make the people around them successful and great difficulty trusting the people they have hired.

Simon Terry writes in the ebook, Changing the World of Work. One Human at a Time:  

Trust is your first design choice. The answer to the trust question will shape all the subsequent choices that you make in the design of your organization and its future path in the market. Trust will determine your ability to leverage new ways of working and the future of work in your organization. Most importantly, trust determines whether you can ask your people to help.

If you don’t trust the people around you, then you have no choice but to create or maintain a traditional, hierarchical, top-down structure. That’s how you keep control over people you don’t trust.

However, if you do trust the people around you, then you have options for the structure of your Joy Inc organization. You can align that structure with your values and your strategic goals. There are examples of companies that are doing this effectively. For the most part, their designs are emergent; growing out of the values and beliefs of their leaders.

One useful theory for categorizing these organizational structures is Robert Quinn’s Competing Values Framework which posits four types of culture that influence structure:

  • Clan culture (internal focus and flexible)
  • Adhocracy culture (external focus and flexible)
  • Market culture (external focus and controlled)
  • Hierarchy culture (internal focus and controlled)

Another structure that is attracting much interest of late is holacracy, especially since the Zappos CEO has made it public that this is what he intends for his organization.  This structure is similar to Quinn’s “adhocracy”, an environment in which people self-organize in teams around purpose. In theory, hierarchy is absent in this type of organization.

The point is that you have options depending on the values and goals of your organization. You can create an environment in which employees feel respected and valued and feel joy in coming to work each day. This isn’t easy because of our natural tendency to want to feel in control and, for some, the difficulty in trusting others. But if you want to get the most out of our organization, you need to work at overcoming these fears. 

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