Have you ever worked in or with an organization, and felt some tension about the way things were done? Perhaps you saw an opportunity for improvement, or an endemic challenge that needed attention – in the organization’s actions, policies, processes, strategy, or structure? It’s hard to imagine someone who hasn’t. In organizational life we often sense potential futures that are different from present reality, and would be a step forward in some way. But then what? What can you do with these “tensions” you sense?
In the typical organization the answer is “very little” – at least with most of the tensions we sense. You’re doing pretty well if you can address a few of the high-priority ones, and unless you’re at the top you have little influence in the organization’s structure, strategy, processes, or policies. Yet what a lost opportunity – we humans have an incredible capacity to sense tensions, but we usually don’t have a forum to go to where we can reliably process those tensions into something useful. So the organization loses one of its most powerful forces for evolution, and we humans are forced to hold the tensions – in our minds and our bodies – where they fester into frustrations and eventually apathy or burnout.
So, what new capacities could an organization harness if anyone who sensed any tension, anywhere in the organization, could rapidly process it into some kind of positive change? That’s evolution in action, one tension at a time. I think getting to this state is the challenge of any organization that wishes to truly harness the power of an evolutionary approach to doing its work in the world.
What exactly will this take? Holacracy’s approach is first to shift the top-down power structure to a distributed control system embedded within a fractal structure – one which allows self-organization at every level of scale, so most tensions can be processed locally. It also adds conduits in and out of each team or “cell” of this fractal organization, so tensions that can’t be processed locally can be channeled to a cell or organ that can process them. Within each cell we use different forums for processing different tensions, with each forum focused on reaching a different type of output. Some tensions are best resolved by taking action, others require changing the pattern or structure of how we work together, and others lead to adjustments in our broader strategic direction. Each forum has a unique process and decision-making criteria, tailored to do the type of work it is meant for – so we’re not stuck trying to use a single regular meeting with an ill-defined generic process to address everything. This overall approach is anchored by a constitution that defines these and other details of this new “organizational operating system” for an evolution-powered organization.
So, what do people in your organization do with the tensions they sense? To what extent do they trust that every tension they experience has a place to go, where it will get processed quickly and effectively into organizational evolution?
HolacracyOne offers training and support in the Holacracy® organizational operating system, including a licensing and sales-support program for professional consultants. Learn more via www.holacracy.org or contact us to start a dialog.
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