The big fallacy in organizational development: Structure is no replacement for personality development.
New forms of organizations and businesses could not possibly replace the personality development of their executives (leaders) or employees (staff). Structural and personal development truly are mutually dependent on one another. Though, every single one of them requires utterly different conditions and a highly individual approach. Structural development is complicated on an organizational level (implementing new rules). It can be done fairly quick, though. Yet, as a consequence employees tend to drop out in the process and that’s why structural development does not suffice on its own. Personal development is quite complex on a psychological level, but it takes time, experience and role models. Nevertheless, mature personalities will be discouraged by unsuitable corporate environments. Thus, in order to make this “evolutionary leap”, such companies must be in want of a structural- and personality development that goes hand in hand.
The social evolution of organizations cannot be stopped
The discussion of a vital corporate structure is in high demand: The US company Zappos has introduced the so called “Holacracy” which is often mistakenly depicted as an organization with no hierarchy. This caused quite a stir. The topic of democratization is now the issue of many a book (Thomas Sattelberger “The democratic enterprise”, Andreas Zeuch “All power to nobody”) and its importance is furthermore emphasized by Frederic Laloux’s roaring success and bestseller “Reinventing Organizations”. Now we can see how the social evolution of organizations cannot be stopped. Whilst the crucial needs of the human being are not met (autonomy, authenticity, meaningfulness), the search for a better form of organization continues.
Democracy is no guarantee for successful collaboration
As a multitude of those vital organizations prosper economically, one might jump to the (false) conclusion that this is the formula for success: “We need a new, vital corporate structure”. However, we overlook that the form of organization is only half the job done. The second half is people. People’s personality and ability to have relationships. Those two areas of development (structure and personality) are quite independent. Even in a democratic organization there can be a bad working atmosphere as well as bullying and in a strictly hierarchically structured organization you can find the best atmosphere.
This is why during the development of a corporate culture you should not only focus on the form of organization but equally tend to personality-development and working relationships. Thus, essentially it’s less about “(flat) hierarchy or not?”, “boss or no boss?”, but in the core it’s about finding out if those (working) relationships between the employees have the clannishness and trust to sustain the motivation needed to reach the organization’s goals. Structural development cannot replace personality development (nor the other way around). Both have quite distinct conditions and therefore both need different advising processes.
Different conditions of structural and personality development
Admittedly, structural development is hard as it demands the introduction and practice of new rules. However, it’s fairly quick to implement. In hierarchically led organizations the upper management can decide overnight to establish new decision-making structures (holacracy or another model). Aside from the formal implementation taking its time, an organization can be updated within a relatively brief term. This is the reason why corporate development experts love seminars where it’s all about values. They conceive the hope that this structural level is adequate. It’s simply not. You have to deal with the people as well.
In contrast, personality development requires time, communication and role models with experience. For the most part it happens while working close with other human beings in realistic, authentic encounters and communication and ever so often it’s the transformation through conflict. Especially conflict as they show us eminently our level of development. Do we see conflicts as “normal”, “unpopular but necessary” or will we just dismiss them and put a lid on it? The structural development of a person cannot be “updated” as quickly as we’d like to see it happen. Jane Loevinger’s research proves: A female co-worker who will place special emphasis on the “conformist stage” (E4) cannot be taken to the “autonomous stage” (E8) overnight. It’s impossible cause there are three stages in between and you can’t just skip them – just as no child can be taught walking or reading from one day to the next.
Vital organizations need (more) mature personalities
For a healthy performance of the so-called evolutionary and organizational structures, mature personalities are indispensable (according to Loevinger’s model at least stage 7). This fact is often overlooked by the proponents of evolutionary organizations. Also Frederic Laloux`s book “reinventing organizations” seems not only established by its extraordinary content; furthermore it’s probably promoted by a romantically inflated hope of many a reader who dreams of a paradise-like state in an evolutionary organization. However, democracy, Holacracy etc. are decision-making structures which fundamentally premise a high measure of self-responsibility, thoughtfulness and self-reflection.
The smaller an organization, the higher the requirements every single employee will need to meet (this is due to runaways/ troublemakers who cause much bigger problems in small groups). Besides, in our experience the frequency of conflicts will increase with a growing level of development (both personal and structural), because conversations tend to get more open and honest. Those conflicts are essential for the further development of the organization, as they bring about a balance between individual needs and collective requirements, but not everyone will handle it constructively from the start. Thus, structural development will not replace development of personality and self-awareness of leaders and employees. On the contrary: both are indispensable and unexpectedly interwoven.
© Markus Fischer
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