Build projects around motivated individuals. Give them the environment and support they need, and trust them to get the job done.
Power and vulnerability
The latest reflections upon hierarchy I stumbled upon where about how much the value of hierarchy gets overblown.
We should talk about hierarchy like we talk about taxonomy: it is just one way to name things.
Having a hierarchy and and org chart depicting this hierarchy is no different than having a picture of a tree and a way to say: this is the trunk, these are the branches and these are the leaf.
We talk about hierarchy what we are doing most of the time is complaining about power imbalances.
We use the word “hierarchy” as a shield, because it’s fare
I could have title this episode “Hierarchy and structurelessness”, but the core of the topic is about power, what does it mean to have it, what does it mean to not have it, which ultimately should lead to a conversation about being vulnerable.
I think ideas about non-hierarchical structures, roles, teams has reached a limit of credibility. We should really quit saying that Scrum teams and Scrum roles are “non-hierarchical” because 1) it’s never true in real life and 2) by using the label “non-hierarchical” we make people’s life hard in applying those concepts in everyday life.
Talking about power dynamics is hard: it’s so much easier to blame an org chart and never make progress about it.
But people experience the consequences of power, control, authority every day: talking to them about some sort of agile utopia where none of these exists it’s not the right way to approach any kind of organisational change.
via The Hum
Talking about power is hard because all too often even the definition of what power is are confusing or have been warped.
Power-over has become a symbol of domination, is equated with hierarchy, and tends to be seen as “bad.” Power-with is promoted as the be-all and end-all of “good” practices, and is often equated with an absence of leadership.
Truth must be told: there are no proven ways to create a “non-hierarchical” or “self-managed” company.
The evidence we have is anecdotal, at best.
There is no historical evidence or track record about it: even the history of social movements — where much of the literature and study of self-organizazion come from — can show how many initiatives when wrong for the lack of leadership, structure and/or the excess of inclusion and anarchy.
The first three questions you should ask yourself and your colleagues if you are going to embark in some kind of agile organizational experiment are:
How power manifests itself in your companies? What are its most evident features? Make a list of examples, discuss;
What kind of power are we talking about? Power-over? Power-with? Power-from-within?
On which ends of power do people feel right now? Are they on the weak side of a power-over dynamic? Are they in the middle of a power-with? What should and shouldn’t shift with your next organisational move?
These questions should guide you through a first reflection about how you, individually, feel power(ful) in your organization, and how and when you feel more vulnerable.
Why hierarchy is not the problem and why we should use the words “non-hierarchical”, “self-managed”, “horizontal” very carefully when speaking about an to organisations. Follow-up about what to do toward a power dynamics auditing to better understand where, how and when people feel power and what shape power and vulnerability have.
As there are myths about hierarchy and control, there are myths about power and vulnerability. We can learn a lot about these myths by looking at the past an recent history of social movements.
Take everything here with a grain of salt. There are a lot of extremes, and whenever they write “no [something]” imagine it as “some [something]”.
“If we are to square the necessary inequality that the unequal distribution of power entails with the equally necessary equality of value we place on human life, it’s time to take the merits of hierarchy seriously.” - Hierarchy have a place even in societies built on equality
See you next week
Episode 3 will be about being together and apart.
Out on Monday, June 7th.
Just a reminder: you subscribed to this newsletter because you probably read or wanted to read something interesting about Agile a few months ago. This newsletters drops in “seasons”, like a TV show, so I will be publishing constantly for a short while — seven weeks in a row — and then disappear for a few months.
My name is Davide and I’m an organizational consultant who’s sometimes called an “Agile coach” (beware the capital “A”, beware the “coach”).
We can have a quick chat about if and how I can help you.