Access To Land

Reinventing Organizations - a teaser

by Thomas Kliemt-Rippel, Kulturland

What would an organization look like, where decisions are not made top down, but rather each person in the organization is empowered with a high degree of autonomy to make decisions and feel like they are part of a bigger, interconnected organism? An organization that is fluid and dynamic and growing and interacting with the world organically?

For a land commons organization, like the Kulturland Cooperative and all members of Access to Land, these are inevitably central questions. We explicitly do not share the philosophy of a neoliberal, capitalistic market structures. Our aspiration is to bring a new commons into a world dominated by neoliberal market dynamics. So we cannot rely on classical management theory, which emerged out of the neoliberal consciousness, to structure our organizations.

Frédéric Laloux, author of ‘Reinventing Organizations‘ published first in 2014, postulates that the question of how to create a so-called heterarchical (non-hierarchical) organizational structure cannot be answered by some sort of “management theory”, because as the question implies, it is not about “managers” managing differently, but rather about the people who are part of the organization to work together seamlessly - like a beehive - through a sort of shared consciousness. And by that, he does not mean people are magically communicating though telepathy. There is no magic involved, and real organizations with tens or even hundreds of thousands of employees have managed to organize themselves in a heterarchical (as opposed to hierarchical) manner.

Every once in a while, Laloux, who comes from a background of classical management consulting, got a glimpse into an organization that was obviously different in terms of how collaboration in the company worked and how satisfied the employees were. He was fascinated by these organizations and wanted to find out what it is that these heterarchical organizations had in common. In his book ‘Reinventing Organizations‘, Laloux takes a deep dive into the consciousness shared by these organizations and goes on to give 50 concrete examples of organizations as diverse as an auto parts manufacturer (FAVI) and a nursing organization (Buurtzorg), which operate according to what he calls a “teal consciousness”.

We, at the Kulturland-Cooperative, have read the book together and took deep inspiration from it in terms of how to help structure the organization. I want to name just a few of the practical implementations of this organizational philosophy within Kulturland:

  • We try to communicate with each other according to the principles of non-violent communication - “stick to your feelings”, “voice your need”, “formulate a concrete request”.
  • We try to stick to the principle of an “iterative decision-making process” - everyone is free to act autonomously, as long as they inform others about things that might affect them and give every affected person a chance to voice their concerns and to have the implementation of a decision modified in such a way that everyone involved is able to give their consent.
  • We have invested a lot of energy to establish structures where every task, procedure, workflow and process - and also all important reference information within the organization - is ”brought to paper” as comprehensively as possible (in task descriptions, standard operating procedures, checklists, logbooks and wikis). For this, we use a project/organizational management tool, where the entire complexity of the organization can be captured as comprehensively as possible.
  • Define roles which are needed for these tasks, procedures, workflows and processes. A role might be “legal”, “IT”, “design”, “social media”, etc. Roles can then be basically carried out by anyone who wants to and is capable to fulfil that role. It all remains very fluid and ideally nothing, or very little, is tied to any one single person, so that the organization can keep thriving, even if one person is (suddenly) no longer a part of the organization.

I hope that I have inspired you to read the book, ideally together with your colleagues. Alongside the original 400-page edition, there is also a wonderful illustrated edition available! You can find out more about the book and the author here

Other books I can recommend:

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