Grow from the Ground Up: A Lesson in Living Work from the First Org. Chart

Organizations are living systems! With life in them! That's something we knew way back when. The first organizational chart (click on the title of this blog to pull up the picture of it) was drawn as a tree, where leadership is not at the top but rather at the roots and the team are tall, elegant branches that grow out of the leadership foundation. It was made for a railroad - one of the earliest modern forms of connecting human beings to each other, and to where they want to go. How we think about structure impacts how we think about, and go about, growth. When did organizational charts start looking so mechanistic when they started as ... botanical? When did we literally turn this conception upside down? (and put leadership at the top instead of the roots from which the organization grows)?

What should next level org charts look like? Organizational design impacts work approach, outcomes, and employee experience. That's why organizations are evaluating their structures and processes to ensure they support next generation talent management and innovation. Considering the earliest org. chart is an interesting place to start. There's something exciting about designing an organization as a complex living ecosystem. Check out the links below and let me know what you think. How does your garden grow? 

Think about that. We started out knowing what organizations could be. Then we made them machines. Then we made the people in them machines. So we represented them with boxes. And we keep people in those boxes. We keep organizations in boxes. Not much life in a box. Not much growth in a box - not organic anyway. And we got obsessed with flat organizations with the illusion of equality and sameness (when hierarchies still exist). A lot of discontent comes from being fed an illusion that you know doesn't feel true.These days we talk about the wisdom and prudence of organic growth as opposed to rampant acquisition. And yet it's difficult to attain. Could that have something to do with the way we conceive of work? Of the system and the people doing it? (much like the language you speak shapes your understanding of the world? but that's another blog post...).

Trees and plants operate with more precision and elegant design than a lot of machines. But we are not plants. We are living organisms with somewhat mechanistic minds. Input / output minds. So our mindset matters. What is possible for ourselves and the organizations we create depends on our mental models as much as it does our connectedness to what keeps us alive - the heart. There are neural cells in the heart. It is like a second brain. 

What would it be to connect the two and lead from there? Lead ourselves and our organizations in a dynamic balance of head and heart? It's a bit like leading from the soil between the roots and the trunk and branches. Changing work from the ground up.

What's between the mind and the heart? The throat. The place from which we speak. Breathe. Communicate. How do we establish a connection between the rational, mechanistic, pragmatic programmable and the feeling, sensing, natural and dynamic? How do we create the connection and then - most importantly - how do we communicate it?

That's my life work. Find common ground and lead from it. Deeper learning, higher leadership, healthier results. Communicate, connect, create. Next generation leadership uses full resourcefulness. It is more than what we've experienced before. It is integrative and co-created. It is grounding and uplifting at the same time. It is transformative.