NUGGET:  Be sure that the way you draw your organization corresponds to how you want it to work – and be aware of both the “light” and the “shadow” of the assumptions that underlie your mental model.

In leadership programs I often ask people to draw their organization.  Before you read on, imagine how you would draw yours.

Your drawing reflects your implicit assumptions about how the organization works.

Most people draw a pyramid or a cascading organization chart.  Many organizations today – possibly including yours — are managed as a traditional “pyramid.” The cascading organization chart within the pyramid shows job boundaries and where people fit, maps how communication normally flows, and shows who has what authorities.  The efficiencies of this design are well known:  functional excellence, division of labor, role clarity.  However, this traditional organization often has a pretty powerful shadow side: hidden or repressed qualities that hold the organization back and can negatively affect a variety of internal and external stakeholders as well as organization effectiveness.

Carl Jung introduced the “shadow” in an essay in 1917, describing it as a powerful unconscious force that contains negative but repressed energies.  Over time, the shadow concept expanded to include undeveloped or unused positive qualities.  The “shadow” also began to be applied to civilizations, organizations, and groups.

I am exploring the shadow in many blogs, for the shadow is a fascinating and important force that holds keys to organization and individual evolution as well as destruction.  If we don’t face into and do something constructive with this shadow energy the human-made challenges of the past will be puny explosions in comparison to what may lie ahead – for shadow energies build if buried.

Think for a minute about the shadow side of the traditional pyramid organization.  What qualities does it easily reward and what qualities does it frequently marginalize?  Here are a few:

  • Rewards action, suppresses reflection
  • Rewards rational argument, suppresses creative, intuitive, non-standard approaches
  • Favors short term benefit, suppresses longer term focus
  • Rewards competition, suppresses collaboration
  • Relies on information control, is suspicious of information transparency
  • Focuses on financial success and stakeholders over other kinds of bottom lines (customer, future, environmental, etc.)
  • Supports authoritarian/power-over vs. participative, power with approaches and mindsets

Okay, these are extreme polarities, and the real world operates somewhere on the continuum.  However, few would doubt that the suppressed energies of the right side of this list are knocking at our doors, demanding to be let out, and pulling us into a new paradigm of organizations.  The price for keeping the lid on these forces is very high:  economic collapse, loss of talent, poor organization performance in the longer term, demoralized and underperforming workforce, destroyed reputations, proliferation of fraud and other white collar crime, loss of public trust in business and governments, and in some cases – violent revolution.

We see evidence of a better balance trying to take hold as organizations begin to take on some new forms – supply chains, virtual teams, and more networked relationships that cross levels and organization boundaries. These emerging forms are placing lots of stress on the traditional pyramid structure and the “command and control” methodologies that often accompany it.  Processes are increasingly replacing structures as the rather pliable glue that aligns people and work.

Here is a key point I will expand on in future blogs:  there is huge energy locked up in the shadow.  Like the electricity that lies latent in wires and generators, it is waiting to be unleashed  — to expand people’s skills, to bring better information to decisions and problems, to create great products and services, to solve bigger problems, to create immensely greater value, to even ensure the survival of civilization.

Our challenge is not to replace hierarchy with anarchy, but to capture the benefit of hierarchy in decision making, organizing and aligning work, and supporting functional excellence – while also supporting the free flow of relationships and information to get work done with the least bureaucratic interference.

NUGGET:  Be sure that the way you draw your organization corresponds to how you want it to work – and be aware of both the “light” and the “shadow” of the assumptions that underlie your mental model.

*To see how the  Shadow operates in leadership, get a copy of The Shadow Side of Power: Lessons For Leaders


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