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In the first part of the series “How to become a really good leader”, we looked at the New Work movement.
We learned that, unlike our parents and grandparents, we now live in an identity economy and the desire for “meaningfulness” has a high value among us and our team members.
We are all driven to want to be fully engaged in a business and long to be able to shed, as best we can, the masks we have to put on to perform our professional roles.
Is this even realistic?
To form a basis for a possible answer, we need to take a look at the “other side” and ask ourselves:
What actually organisations are?
To describe the “organisation” in a short, snappy sentence is sometimes not so easy. Depending on which side you look at this construct, from the inside or the outside, something different may become visible for each of us.
When we talk to others about organisations, we sometimes talk about “buildings”, our own activities, the “team”, the “management”.
A general image of an organisation therefore does not seem to exist. And therefore it is not so easy to describe the organisation in a few words.
But if our desire to “be fully within the organisation” is so great, we still need one or two explanations of terms.
Therefore, one way to look at the organisation more closely is to distinguish it from other social systems.
Let us ask ourselves the question: What distinguishes organisations from other social systems?.
Essentially, three important elements come up:
- organisations emerge from a sense of meaning and purpose
- they are kept alive by people – the members
- they are structured in hierarchies (sometimes more, sometimes less)
The purpose of an organisation
An organisation is created for a purpose – to market an idea, or the resulting service, in the best possible way.
This can be innovative and groundbreaking ideas from start-ups (Microsoft and Apple), or driven by purely economic interests.
Simon Sinek described an organisation (and the WHY) as follows:
An organisation has a WHY.
And within an organisation there are teams – “sub-organisations” that exist within the larger group.
Simon Sinek calls this a “nested why” – the purpose, cause or belief that defines a sub-group within the larger organisation.
Within each of these teams there are in turn people who have their own unique WHY – their individual WHY.
The goal now is for each individual to work for a company where they fit the culture, share values, believe in the vision and work in a team where they feel valued and worthwhile.
A nested why always serves the overarching WHY of the company, it never competes with it.
The reason to formulate a team vision is the same reason an organisation defines its vision – it gives people a sense of identity and belonging. It enables teams and groups to identify with the people they work with every day. It helps them understand their unique contribution as a distinct group to the larger vision.
Think of the organisation as a tree. The roots and trunk represent the origin and foundation. In this tree there are branches – these branches are the divisions and departments of the organisation.
And on these branches are nests – these nests are the subcultures or the teams in the tree. And in each nest there is a family of birds that belong together.
The goal for us as individuals is to know our WHY so that we can more easily find the right tree and the right nest.
The goal for an organisation is to know its WHY in order to attract the right birds.
And the goal for each team within the organisation is to ensure that the right birds are in each nest – those who will work together most effectively to contribute to the higher purpose and cause of the organisation.
We, as leaders, must constantly balance the different purposes within the organisation and prioritise accordingly.
The purpose and cause of an organisation, is divided into a substantive-content and an emotional dimension (see Fink/Moeller 2018).
The factual-content dimension describes the why and wherefore of the work performance, the organisation, the founding purpose. This sense creates orientation that organisations can use to deal with complexity.
The emotional dimension describes the feeling of being able to contribute something meaningful. When one decides to “join” an organisation, the meaning and purpose of the organisation can make a crucial difference.
Because for the right meaning and purpose, people are willing to consciously say “yes”. So that they can contribute to it, they also (consciously or unconsciously) refrain from putting their own self-development at the centre. This is not necessarily disadvantageous for the individual. But if the organisation’s vision, mindset and lifestyle matches that of the individual, the much desired win-win situation may arise.
Workforce through membership
People play a very relevant role in the development of organisations. By signing a contract, the employee signs his/her membership to an organisation and accepts the applicable contract and framework conditions. This means that within an organisation you cannot do whatever you want, but you have to do what is important for the organisation itself.
This attitude and membership is linked to the fulfilment of services and conditions.
At the same time, the organisation offers the sense of belonging that is important to us, as social beings, when we enter into membership.
In this day and age, we live in an identity economy, organisations have to offer something to make it attractive to people. And remain so. Because nothing can be worse than the departure of a key person of many years’ standing, with the resulting loss of know-how.
The modern organisation today
Today we have reached a phase in which globalisation and digitalisation require different, more modern forms of organisation than was necessary 10 or 20 years ago. There is no longer any limitation in terms of space or time. This was even accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
What do organisations, and thus we, as leaders, want?
Creativity, initiative and self-organisation are becoming increasingly important. Organisations therefore have a great interest in finding the right members.
Even if we talk about wanting to contribute holistically to a company as human beings – an organisation (per se) has no interest in human self-realisation. At most, it counts if it contributes to the success of the organisation and helps to fulfil the purpose of the organisation.
At the same time, self-realisation can only be possible within the defined framework that the organisation and we as leaders set.
Hierarchies in the organisation
The term hierarchy probably comes up most often when describing the organisation.
Hierarchies are then certainly of greater importance in corporations than in newly founded start-ups.
We are all familiar with pyramid-shaped organisational charts, which have been accepted uncritically in recent years.
However, with a different look at it, this structure is being questioned more often and more strongly. The New Work movement has defined and brought forth new forms of structuring. Holacracy, replaces the classic pyramid form with circles. The handling of authority, power and the bonus of a fancy company car, is being rethought in distributed in modern organisations.
Hierarchy from an organisational perspective
From the organisation’s point of view, hierarchy is primarily about stabilisation and control. It allows communication channels to be clearly regulated. It is clear who is subordinate to whom, and the hierarchy thus also significantly regulates social relations.
Hierarchies create order because it is clear where responsibilities lie.
Hierarchical structures serve to stabilise organisations and they remain capable of making decisions.
The big show down
In the next article we will look at how all three factors – purpose, membership and hierarchy – interact. We will see that it is not always either/or, but that these three issues interact with each other.