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Why reinventing organisations is about more than just changing structures

It’s no secret that the way we’re working isn’t working. Even the most dyed in the wool organisations are acknowledging that they need to adapt and transition from, as author Chuck Blakeman puts it, the Industrial Age to the Participation Age. However, most people are focusing on structures, and busying themselves with installing the latest trend, whether it’s Agile, Lean, Beyond Budgeting, Results Only Work Environments, Holacracy, Sociocracy or another system. Structures are important and certainly need to be redesigned. But changing structures alone is not enough.

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Miki Kashtan

Miki Kashtan, author and international teacher of Nonviolent Communication, describes two other shifts that need to happen (in addition to changing structures) in order for us to achieve a new, more purposeful level of collaboration in our organisations. They are human shifts — in being, in relating, in mindsets.

Firstly, those who have (or have had) structural power, for instance managers, need to unlearn their top-down tendencies, and learn instead to welcome new perspectives and trust others with radical responsibility. Secondly, those who don’t have (or haven’t had) structural power — in this case, employees — need to unlearn their bottom-up tendencies, to overcome fear and deference, and instead ask for what they need, dare to question or challenge or propose. In other words, both managers and employees need to shift their mindset and way of being to one of distributed leadership and shared power. Mary Parker Follett was writing about this as early as the 1920s, calling it a shift from “power over” to “power with.”

These shifts will be challenging because they go against, in some cases, decades of “power over” conditioning from our families, schools, societies, and workplaces. But without shifts occurring in these two places, as Miki describes, any attempts to become an Agile or self-managing organisation (or anything else) will be short-lived and surface level. You could characterise this human shift as transforming the dynamic between managers and non-managers from a parent-child dynamic (where the manager is responsible and the one that problem-solves, decides etc.) to a more adult-adult dynamic (where individuals relate to each other as partners, collectively responsible for the organisation’s outcomes).

So how do we facilitate this shift then? Of course, there’s no one-size-fits-all solution here, but here are some starting points for facilitating the two human shifts Miki has outlined.

  • Upgrade our communication and relational skills — for instance with Nonviolent Communication training, or, for managers, training in how to be more coaching, empowering leaders

I believe if we start with taking steps towards these two human shifts, it will create a more robust platform on which to start co-creating new structures with new awareness. As organisational coach Simon Mont writes:

“…if you don’t plan for the power relationships that you want, you will unconsciously reproduce the power relationships of the culture you inherited.”

This piece was originally commissioned as part of an ebook to be published by Academy of Culture Ambassadors.

For more about the shifts Miki Kashtan has outlined, you can listen to our full conversation as part of the Leadermorphosis podcast here. You can also learn more about her work via her website

Written by

Founder of Reimaginaire, trainer and coach with Tuff Leadership Training, host of Leadermorphosis podcast.

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