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Mod. 1.2 - Decentralized Orgs in Context; What Makes Self-Management Stick?

Write in blog form, why do you think self-management sticks in some organizations and not others? Does Laloux’s framing provide insights? What lessons do these differences offer for you as a leader? Offer feedback or insights in response to at least one peer's comments.


I was first introduced to Frederic LaLoux’s Reinventing Organizations this past June during the MACL program’s introductory course with Diane Ragsdale which offered an overview of different management theories and the myriad calls for new forms of leadership at all levels and sectors. At first, LaLoux’s framing appeared obvious to me. Moving away from traditional hierarchies, applying a greater focus on sustainable and equitable practices and policies, and viewing companies and their employees as an ecosystem of interdependent organisms all working together. As a relatively younger person, the historical problems of organizational management in business seemed as obvious to me as identifying the color of the sky.

Since then, LaLoux’s five-tiered color scheme and the management styles they embody have been ensconced even more firmly in my mind, but with greater context for “why” the problems of traditional management models exist, not just “what” problems exist . The insights I’ve gleaned from LaLoux stem from the historical lens he applies to how each management model emerged. Beginning with the Industrial Revolution, LaLoux shares how corporate management began as an outgrowth of military training that evolved in response to new challenges, technologies and crises that challenged the foundation of the model, but which ultimately persisted through each one. I believe one of the reasons why self-management within organizations is so challenging is because one of the strongest characteristics of the military code and operations is the strict adherence to command hierarchy which predicates one's actions entirely on the word and approval of an authority.

This framing doesn’t specifically presume a soldier’s, or in this case, a worker’s inability to self-manage, but it does impose a strict way of operating that discourages comments, questions or alternative points of view from being shared. Given this reality, is it any surprise the vast majority of workers simply fall in line? While the workplace is not a direct parallel to the battlefield, the vestiges of militarism appear in numerous ways. For example, in most workplaces a superior may not necessarily give an employee a directive saying “That’s an order!” but the intent behind the directive and the consequences for not completing it are clear.

To demonstrate the evolution of these frameworks over time, I’ve included a graph below which outlines hypothetical examples in each colored tier of how workplace directives have evolved over time.

The huge shift that occurs between the Orange and Green tiers is most notably seen in the current tension that exists between older generations of workers who have built and spent the majority of their careers working within the first three tiers and younger generations who grew up with very little exposure to the older systems and can’t conceive of operating in that way.

As a leader, I believe a generational understanding of an employee’s exposure to these different frames of organizational management can be a valuable tool for understanding different people’s experiences, the diverse expectations of leadership, and how to motivate staff.

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