We have outlived the pyramid–the organizational model based on hierarchy and positional power. That structure was useful in an industrial, product-oriented economy when demand outstripped supply for goods and the need for change was limited. The “organizational man” feels right at home there. Yet the situation most organizations find themselves in today is quite unlike what they faced back only a decade or so ago. Information and technology; global connectedness; threat of new competitors from anywhere; speed; warfare and terrorism; meltdowns (economic and political); environmental concerns and governmental involvement in commerce all signal the need for new ways of thinking and new organizational designs.
The pyramid is not so great if you need anticipation, agility, and adaptability.
Another organizational design is emerging that delivers what the pyramid cannot – it’s called a coalition. A coalition is “a temporary union for a common purpose” and comes from the same root word as to coalesce, meaning “to blend, mingle, mix…and grow together.” If you like pyramids, coalitions are messy places. They are designed for change, so they lack a formal hierarchy. Teams form and dissolve as the situation demands. Leadership in coalitions is not granted by position, but by buy-in from potential followers; tasks are assigned to leaders who can “draw a crowd” of the best workers who opt into the new assignment. People across coalitions are selected for those next big assignments by their peers. The inmates truly run the asylum.
BTL is a coalition. We love coalescing ’cause we can. It takes a special “inmate” to thrive in a coalition. It takes a self-directed person who knows what he or she wants in life. Someone highly self authorizing and committed to excellence. Someone looking for meaning in their work. And, someone who wants to “blend, mingle, mix, and grow together.”
What’s critical in a coalition is: the meaning of the work flowing from the clear purpose of the enterprise; the autonomy necessary to make a contribution; the opportunity for growing skills from competence to mastery; and knowing the work has impact–it makes a positive difference. This is not to say that the coalition is without structure. Just like the pyramid, it has a definite organizational framework. It’s just very different, designed for an environment that’s very different. Whereas the pyramid is all about “command and control,” a successful coalition is built on a power model of “engage and evolve.” The pyramid moves forward on the WHAT of “strategic planning;” the coalition on the WHY of “core purpose.” The pyramid hires for “talent and experience;” the coalition looks for “character, energy, and heart.” Pyramids are obsessed with lagging indicators of financial performance; coalitions are obsessed with leading indicators of associate engagement and ownership and customer involvement and referral.
The coalition is about as different from the pyramid as day is from night. Therefore it’s likely to be resisted by those who occupy positional power on top of all our pyramids. Watch out for those folks–they wield lots of power. This may take a while. The pyramid is a formidable structure. About the only way to bring one down is to undermine its foundation. So, if you’re looking to build a coalition, be forewarned. It’s messy building something where you give away your positional power to create more organizational power. The best coalitions are led by leaders like Durp who are not power/money driven but are led by a purpose to change their industry and make it better. Lots of my clients think they’re building a coalition because they are going through the proper motions and following the proper process. They don’t get it. They haven’t given the one thing they gotta give to get what they can’t grasp – CONTROL.
Pyramid or coalition? You choose. Your choices have consequences. I hope you choose to coalesce. Good…