Regenerative Organization Design

Tyler Hartrich
Mar 6, 2015 · 5 min read


Adapting to New Environments

We are within an age of complexity that has a profound impact on the vitality of business operating in this young century. As such, organizations are at the precipice of an ever evolving sea change — confronted with the need for rapid responsiveness. It is a time fraught with turbulence and uncertainty, begging organizations to continuously adapt to remain relevant.

As with natural order, those that evolve to new environments are best suited for survival: The death and life of organizations is bound to the principle of natural selection. Organizations that understand their relevance and behold the ability to adapt to new environments will prevail.

Clarity of Higher Purpose

Organizations that behold a profound and authentic purpose will lead in the new economy. Those that understand that the point of differentiation between good and great is not what, or how products are brought to market, but why the organization finds it integral to their very being. As Simon Sinek suggests, “People don’t buy what you do, but why you do it.”1

Businesses with hearts sized for the future should embody this characteristic through purpose-driven values. Organizations that zero in on their due north star will continue to lead the world forward.

A New System of Governance

Thomas Jefferson once called for a revolution to occur once every twenty years. His assertion came from his belief that each generation has new and distinct needs separate from the generation that came before it. In business, this translates to the need for constant organizational renewal — an operating model best suited for the path ahead. In organizational design, vertical hierarchies built with a top down approach are intended for leadership to remain in the hands of the few. We are beginning to see a great shift away from this dated model towards a structure of organizational functions being broken down into sub functions and filled by humans. As a result, businesses are leveraging the strengths inherent within a greater set of its employees — leading to a more diverse form of power distribution. This new form of governance imbues the best and brightest out of the box thinking at every stage of the organization.

Businesses must harness autonomy and leadership throughout the organization, leading to innovation in the least expected places. It is a call for companies to fundamentally redefine their org charts — to give full confidence that innovation lies in every employee. The focus must be on organizing teams of people to be intrapreneurs — champions in their own right. Doing so will lead to better alignment and lasting employee engagement.

The Human Operating Model
Above all else, organizations are comprised of people, and yet to often we generate systems that are better suited for the likes of machines. Better be it that we enable a new operating model — a human system that casts people in all aspects of the organization as vital to the health of the body.

The following principles are instrumental in the building of the next great organizing model:

Distributed leadership —
Imagine the scene of a Michelin Star rated chef preparing a true work of culinary art. Picture all that this chef must have within her arsenal in order to serve among the best dishes in the world. To what capacity would you allow this chef to hold autonomy over her creation?

As with a Michelin Star chef, organizations should be hiring highly qualified candidates with confidence that they will be able to self-manage their work. Distributed leadership suggests that employees have a new definition of control over their respective domain. In this model, individuals hold autonomy over their work — engaging people to self-direct. Adoption of such a principle has the power of leading to heightened creativity, stronger alignment with the organizations purpose and overall confidence in the ability to lead. To reinforce self-management, distributed leadership is embraced by way of small, self-governing circles. This organizing principle is found in such models as Holacracy, which sees autonomous decision-making as fundamental to effective leadership. “Decisions are made by people at every level of the organization, within their sphere of authority, and there’s no “guy at the top” who has the authority to trump them.”2 Medium, Zappos, Precision Nutrition and dozens of other organizations around the world have adopted such a model and find that its organizing principles are invaluable to the vitality and governance of their respective companies. In such a model, people are encouraged to make the implicit explicit. It is about gaining a perspective of others in an open and transparent atmosphere by enabling people to harness everyone’s full capacity within the organization. It aims to remove tensions and add honest communication.

Transparency —
Companies that instill transparency as an organizing principle see to it that the benefits far outweigh the possibilities of oversharing information. Transparency is paramount in building a foundation of trust and openness. With the world becoming more accessible moment to moment, it is only fitting that our values breed throughout our organizations. This couldn’t be more true than in Joel Gascoigne work at Buffer. He proclaims that, “The benefits of transparency extend to your customers, users, readers, viewers, and future audiences, too. When you start sharing the details of your business and decision processes, you make yourself more human.”3

Egalitarian Engagement —
Businesses are finding that the most innovative projects are stemming from the least of likely places. You simply do not know where the best of ideas will originate from. When an organization proclaims openness and candor in the workplace, intellectual humility emerges through the ideation process as we discover that our ideas are often ones of dozens. The key is to incentivize egalitarian engagement — that is — to entrust that your workforce up and down the organization is armed with the capacity to deliver new thinking. The solution is to instill a culture that catalyzes innovation at every walk of org chart.

Holistic Imaginations —
As in systems thinking, we must hold in truth that there are a multitude of perspectives for any given topic. We never know who might occupy the proper insights to a complex problem. Creating a space for reasoning at various points of view allows for the examining of the focus (point) and the details at the edge (periphery), leading to the emergence of new insights. What you might find as a consequence is people stepping up to create or join projects they otherwise would have left to the wayside.

Ready, set, …

If history is any indication of the future, we will continue to see our economies adapt to ever-evolving environments. However, it isn’t as simple as trusting the future to bring about these changes without a conscious understanding of the need to shift. Instead, it requires a willingness among leaders to embrace the shortcomings of operating traditionally and to wholeheartedly embrace the path ahead. It will be the organizations that realign with their higher purpose, instill distributed leadership, and empower its people that will transform the world.

Join me.


1 Simon Sinek: How great leaders inspire action
2 Holacracy | Social Technology for Purposeful Organizations
3 Making Transparency An Essential Part of Your Culture by Joel Gascoigne: Make Your Mark: The Creatives Guide to Building A Business With Impact


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