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Evolution in Organization

To summarize our progress here then, we've discovered that evolution, Open Space, and apparently everything else, is four dimensional, four directional, even four seasonal if you let them move in that way. But as we click through those seasons, where do we go and what do we become? I hear the echoes of kids in the backseat... when are we gonna get there? Where is the inviting organization? How much longer 'til we get there? Well, I'll show you the map...

...keeping in mind that no map is RIGHT, but that some maps are helpful, we'll tie up these quadrant stories and show how they evolve together, as we resolve bigger and bigger conflicts, see our way through increasing complexity, move faster and easier in organi-zation, and act more and more responsibly in larger, more diverse circles. What follows is a nutshell review of each quadrant and a new story of evolution through five distinct levels which parallel Wilber's continuum from matter to body to mind to soul to spirit.

Purpose/Passion?. It seems right enough to start with what we love, what we think we want, why we work, and what we intend to create for ourselves. This is the inside-individual face of organization. It's about consciousness, about paying attention to what has heart and meaning, about resolving the conflicts that arise between what we have and what we want, about why we get up and go to work everyday, and about what organizations must honor and appreciate in order to attract talent in competitve markets.

Looking into our map now, we see that the evolutionary journey in this quadrant is about learning to work for higher and higher purposes. In the beginning of our own work lives and the lives of organizations, we work for the excitement of it all. Over time, we might start a family, settle down, and excitement isn't as important as security and stability, to be able to maintain the success we've had at the first level. Once we come to believe that we will not lose the gains we've made, it's easy to shift into a proactive drive for still more reward, and work becomes about reaching the next rung of the ladder. At some point, however, we come to the place of asking ourselves what's really most important to us, what is our deepest passion, what do we really love and how can we do THAT in our work. We give our attention to insight, integrity, the things that pique our curiosity and help us feel healthy and whole. Until finally, we begin to ask how we can do the most service for the most other people, working beyond our own personal passions to a compassion for so many others.

I should note here, too, that our movements through these levels, as individuals, organizations and a whole national consciousness is never as strict and mechanical as moving from first grade to second to third. Rather they are a journey like any other learning or practice scale, like our 10K race times, monthly sales, and the stock market. They are some easy milestones against which to mark the movement of what we can think of as the critical mass of our attention to each of the four dimensions. And how big we care, how much we see, how easily we let go, and how responsibly we act -- just like our 10K race time -- moves from day to day, depending on all sorts of circumstances and conditions. We'll see differences, too, between people in the same departments and departments in the same organization. The critical mass of attention in the sales department is likely very different from that of the corporate philanthropy department or employee assistance program.

Furthermore, if we say that the latter fall higher on the scale, at a higher stage or level, we need also to note that their work is only made possible by the revenues generated by the sales department. None of the higher levels are sustainable without the infrastructure and foundation provided by the lower levels. This is what Wilber means when he says each level transcends, rises above the one before it, AND embraces, includes, and depends on the work done at the level below. The overall drive is to increase, expand, and transcend, bringing more and more of our individual, departmental and organizational attention and energy to higher and higher levels. This movement happens always and everywhere, trending upward without effort or trying. It's enough just to pay attention. Simply noticing these movements and levels can make our work easier, but making one level better than the next always seems to get in the way.

And so, keeping in mind then, that no map IS the territory, that no person, department or organization is all or always focused at one level, in any of the quadrants, and that no one level is better or worse than another, we continue with our story about story...

Story/Culture?. Here the challenge is to explain what we see, to clarify where we should go, and develop the stories that help us stay focused and stay together. This is the inside-collective face of organization. It's about culture, about seeing and telling the truth about who we are, about defining simple patterns in times of complexity, and about the work every organization must do to segment and go after the customers it wants to serve. It's about creating a story that customers (and everyone else) can literally buy into and believe in.

The logic of our central organizational story moves from what I call auto-logic, the obvious, through monologue to dialogue and onto multi-logue and beyond to what I call translogue or translogic. As organization begins, it's central story is about headlines, imaging and spins. It's logos, business cards, press releases and soundbites on the outside and the grapevine on the inside. It's the superficial, the automatic, the obvious and it's all about excitement. At the next level, the focus shifts to stories of stablity and loyalty: mission, vision, values statements and monologues by the people in charge. The organi-zational body emerges, followed by organizational mind: the strategic plan. And with the emergence of the plan, dialogue takes over. The leader can't dictate through monologue, but has to control through ongoing dialogue with each part. The story, the plan, and our reason for working are all told and retold in the universal language of 'the numbers.'

As evolution continues and complexity rises, the parts start talking to each other and the multilogue breaks out. It's everybody talking to everybody, which doesn't happen very often in most organizations. In the chaos of it all, the strategic plan gives way to the strategic invitation, a story that is simple enough to travel fast and light, to appeal to people's passions, the reasons why they really want to work AND is complex enough to embrace and include the most important issues from the grapevine, the mission statement and the strategic plans. Strategic invitation is the story that leads organization into multilogue, where strategic conversation can move faster than the plan. Beyond this, at the highest level, where the reason we work is compassion for all, the story and vision become dream, a 'translogue in which we seem to be in conversation with the whole organization, as organization, at once... or maybe even something larger.

As the challenge with caring is to speak it, the challenge with our talking story is to walk it in our decisions, structures and systems.

Structure/Systems?. This is where the vision, reflection and conversation of story and plan emerge as the objective, observable choices and decisions, the stuff that guides real action. This is where we get down to how we're going to get where we've said we want to go, where we develop the structures and systems that support timely and wise decision-making. This is the outside-collective face of organization. It's the sandbox where we build up organization structures and production systems AND where we let them go, tear them down, and open space for what's next. This is where we come up against the dizzying reality that it's ALL moving, where we learn over and over again to go with the bigger, faster flow.

The evolution of organization structure and systems (and restructuring and redesigning) begins simply as a circle of friends, colleagues and associates. It's a cast of characters, some of whom may be bigger stars than others, but none of whom really tells the others what to do. As cast, circle, task force, posse, and business start-up we may take our cues from outside directors, sheriffs or financiers, but inside the organization, it's an all for one and one for all kind of game that we play for the excitement and headlines. If we have some success together, however, we turn quickly to those bigger names to secure our future. We pledge our loyalty and submit to more and more monologues about policy and procedures, mission and vision. When we appoint a team leader, hierarchy emerges and in time becomes bureaucracy, where responsibility for outcomes rests not with the workers, but with the managers one or more organizational layers above. And this works for a time, until the pressure for front-line decision-making starts to erode lines of command and the bureaucracy starts to dissolve. We restructure into smaller, faster networked boxes, each one full of numbers and assigned to a person, who sits in a matrix of cubes and reports to a handful of different bosses.

Each year or so we reshuffle the boxes, until the whole organization ends up in constant motion, one big organizational to-do list, a veritable marketplace of projects, each its own little cast, circle, posse, task force. The circles are formed by invitation (though some invitations are more open than others), to meet specific business needs, given a budget and/or other resource boundaries, and directed to perform in a way that adds value. This is what we're coming to know as the structure of organization and the way real work gets done. Now look again at the process of Open Space, where the circle is formed by an invitation, based on personal passion, professional interests and business needs, the resources and boundaries are clearly marked and the direction is do whatever you can to maximize your own learning and contribution. Open Space is real work, made faster and easier, in circle and invitation and marketplace.

And finally, if our experience in Open Space is any indication, when the marketplace of ideas and issues and projects REALLY starts to move, what emerges as the highest form of organization is movement, an undeniable sense of spirit and hardly any real structure at all. At this highest level, our compassion or concern is for all (all customers, all employees, all people, take your pick). Our story starts to sound like "I have a dream..." and structurally, in the words of folk singer Arlo Guthrie, "They'll call it a movement!" when the flow of work is nothing but flow. And the thing about flow is it comes and it goes, but it CAN be invited, we know.

Action/Responsibility?. In the end, however, organizations don't really move, don't really do any work -- people do. We think and talk and build support for what we care about. And then, each of us DOES something. Takes responsibility and takes action. Makes a difference and makes our own unique contribution to the flow of evolution. This is the outside-individual face of organization. It's about unique, individual behavior, about creating value and using diverse abilities to make things different, about what we have to show for ourselves, and where we stand, when our work is done. This is the question of finance, value and contribution -- the footprints we leave on a bottom line and better world.

The evolution in this quadrant runs from making different stuff, the proverbial better mousetrap, to making a difference that makes a difference, rippling through everthing. While it's been associated here with diversity, that's really only half-way there, as it is really about uniqueness, the reality that each of us is absolutely unique and the possibility that every single action IS a unique, creative act.

This journey begins with making appearances, making points, adding value with bells and whistles, a new look to an old product. It's what makes work exciting, makes headlines. In the beginning, it's about showing up in the right places, but eventually it becomes about showing up at the right time, making deliveries, as promised, time and again, loyal and stable, like it says in the mission statement. Eventually, however, as the business grows, the loyal servants are rewarded. We make them partners, shareholders, give bonuses as rewards, and investments. Everything is done based on expected return, the places we work, the projects we choose, the phone calls we return are all 'calculated' for potential payoff.

At some point, however, the luster of marginal gain, or the effort of calculation in the face of rising uncertainty, just doesn't matter anymore, and we begin to do what we REALLY want, without regard to returns. We make offerings, contributions and invitations, true gifts of ourselves and our time. We begin to connect our work to those issues, ideas and opportunities and questions that make us feel curious, passionate, healthy, whole. And in those moments when spirit shows up, it all seems to swirl together, everything really works. We take a personal stand, make waves, a responsible ripple effect, and have an effortless but powerfully positive impact on the people and world around us -- often without even knowing it. In short, at this highest level, we make peace with, and in ourselves as the world.

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Last edited April 21, 2006 9:22 pm CentralTimeUSA by Mherman
© 1998-2019 Michael Herman and www.michaelherman.com, unless signed by another author or organization. Please do not reprint or distribute for commercial purposes without permission and full attribution, including web address and this copyright notice. Permission has always been granted gladly to those who contact me and say something about themselves, their work, and their use of these materials. Thank you and good luck! - Michael