Emerging everywhere around us is a growing human desire for more cooperation. While the chronic stress of conflict and resulting decline in our overall health and happiness are undoubtedly a factor, the underlying reason is the expanded desire throughout society for living more harmonious, creative lives. Life is supposed to be good for us. We live on an abundant planet. As we have navigated the landscapes and seascapes we occupy here on Earth, some of us have learned how to become good stewards while others have not, usually because of ignorance, a lack of information, or a lack of integrity.
Finally, we now have enough information to take a different tack and work with the same intelligence as Nature’s. We can take advantage of decades of scientific research and mathematical discoveries and begin to act naturally here on Earth in all of our situations. Nature’s way of doing things is easy and flows more smoothly than the ways of our conventional structures. This is why an emerging field of technology development, biomimicry, is having such great success with adopting Nature’s designs for a range of applications such as propulsion and flight. Janine Benyus defined biomimicry in 1997 as a “new science that studies nature’s models and then imitates or takes inspiration from these designs and processes to solve human problems.”
It is time for us humans to operate naturally in our organizations as well. For centuries we’ve relied upon the top-down hierarchy to get things done. And for a long time that system worked well, mostly because communication was delivered personally, without the benefit of information technology, and also because the majority of humans were less educated than today and there were no alternatives. Information technology has made communication happen in real-time now. Likewise, education has expanded not only human capabilities but also human desire for better lives. More of us know it is our nature to be creative and we want to participate in the work we are doing, not just be directed or told what to do by someone else.
In smaller organizations it’s easier to act naturally and keep the flow of information moving toward collective goals. With fewer layers of bureaucracy, the resistance to information flowing in all directions is less than in your typical corporation. One reason for the one-way flow of information in a corporation is that nearly all corporations believe that humans are as controllable as material things and physical processes. Not that humans work on assembly lines anymore, at least in this country. We were replaced by robots in the last generation, as machines are actually controllable and don’t ask for wage increases. Yet, most organizations that reach numbers of 50 or more still resort to the top-down model for their organizational structure and end up with the same systemic issues it has been causing for decades: redundant work efforts and wasted energy, internal competition for positions and resources, negative gossip about relationships and uncertainty, and the resulting turnover as people seek new situations with more rewarding outcomes.
Larger organizations will continue to need structure in order to use resources efficiently, so what’s the alternative to the old way? The Fractal Organization. This is a natural hierarchy that actually enables an even, balanced flow of information between the center and the edges of the organization, where the core leaders make decisions for allocating resources and the managers of human and physical processes are interacting with the external environment. The chain of leadership in the Fractal Organization creates and sustains the shared vision and goals of the collective. Everyone acts as conduits of information flows from the center to the edges and back. Everyone is allowed and encouraged to be creative.
In a Fractal Organization, leaders are dedicated to being leaders: to inspiring, guiding, and mentoring their people who interact with the things and processes central to the organization. In conventional hierarchies, leaders are often managers with their own functional duties and tasks, which divides their attention and takes their focus away from the people they are leading. In this situation, leaders are not capable of being the conduits of information flows that modern organizations need in order to adapt to the rapidly changing conditions around them. Nor do they have time to maintain the key connection between the shared vision and their employees, the connection that creates the pattern integrity that keeps everyone on the same page and prevents personal agendas from superseding collective goals. In Part 2 of this article, we’ll explore the skills leaders need in order to facilitate better information flows and drive results toward desired outcomes.