Notes of gathering – 8 September 2015

What does success look like and how do you measure it? Is it about numbers alone? If so, the gathering of the Human Organising Project at St Ethelburgas earlier this month was a failure, Two of us turned up, compthinkerared to 11 previously. But numbers don’t serve to measure anything interesting or complex. A kilo of apples is not always better than half a kilo, if the half a kilo contains apples of a better quality. More is not better if you are trying to lose weight. Numbers have to be seen in context.

By one measure at least the gathering was successful – François and I both enjoyed our conversation. We share a deep interest in facilitating people to explore different, more human ways of organising. François has formed Caterfly, with Martyn Grimshaw, which organised the Orgshift event in July (and is running a follow-up on 24th of November – see here for more information). For myself, as well as hosting the Human Organising Project, I am writing a book (provisionally called Unorganising) relating the story of my journey through the world of work.

The two of us are not alone in seeking to inspire and bring people together around the subject of new ways of organising. I think of in particular the Enlivening Edge initiative, there is Responsiveorg, and recently I heard that the RSA is providing a space for a network to form. So I pondered, what’s unique about the Human Organising Project? What’s our ecological niche amongst all this activity? Perhaps it’s to do with my own interest in the need for individuals and organisations to become self directing if they want to evolve. This mirrors my own journey in the world of work, during which I had to shift myself from being an “obedient” employee to being a self-directing freelancer.  I found it helpful to develop reflective practices such as writing a diary, creating a range of peer learning relationships, making quiet time to reflect and also to loosen up a bit – to be guided more by my intuition than by logic. Similarly I feel that for organisations to progress to self-organisation, they need to develop reflective practices and structures, while giving their people more freedom. An important role for the Human Organising Project will be to provide a reflective space where individuals can reflect, with others, on the challenges of organising. I’m keen to encourage that reflective quality in all our gatherings. At the same time, I’m trusting that all this reflection will lead to action, and that the Human Organising Project can play a supportive role in some of the activities that are being proposed (such as the Festival of Human Organising – to be held next May 2016).

Themes that François and I explored on Tuesday included the following:

– the nature of self-organising – we agreed it should be seen not just in terms of staff learning to self-manage, but also individuals becoming self-directing and organisations becoming self-governing.

-we talked about the difference between sociocracy (something that François knows much about) and Holacracy. Francois views Holacracy as something rather rigid – it is the organisation that is self directing, whereas in sociocracy there is more emphasis on the individuals.

– some organisations (for example employee-owned organisations or cooperatives) choose alternatives to private ownership (for example employee ownership or cooperatives) but fail to adjust their governance to match. The governance of an organisation that is not owned by anyone externally has to be fundamentally different from one that is owned.

– there are great flaws in democracy, even the Swiss variety that François, as a Swiss national, is familiar with. It imposes the will of the majority on the minority, and thus too often misses out on very important views. If majority rule was such a good idea, wouldn’t a jury make decisions by majority vote? In fact usually a jury has to reach unanimity, even if it takes days to reach a decision. This may seem inefficient but it’s essential to justice because it means that all views have to be taken into account and debated properly (the film 12 Angry Men illustrates this very well). Better decision-making results when you encompass a wide diversity of views and give them a chance to be expressed.

– François observed that the power of shareholders is more imaginary than real. I agreed that the power is rarely tested. However leaders and staff people in shareholder-owned businesses usually self-police – they guess what shareholders would want, and thus pursue shareholder value without being obliged to. So it does not really matter whether shareholders are actually powerful or not – what matters is that the company behaves as if shareholders are powerful.

– some people say that the shareholders in the company should come first. Tom Peters suggested that the customer should come first. Others say it should be staff. Francois and I agreed that in fact a healthy company should pay attention to all these stakeholders and others, not favouring any one.

– The transition from a managed company to a self organising one cannot be managed. It must pass through chaos and disorder to establish a new type of order, as individuals learn to think and act on their own initiative. Just like the journey from a teenager to an adult, there is no shortcut in the journey to becoming self-organising.

– the global environmental crisis is closely connected to the way we organise businesses and other large organisations. When people talk about the benefits of self-management and self-organising, they rarely acknowledge this fact.

In conclusion it was a very rich conversation, like all the other conversations have been in this project. I look forward to the next.


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