6 Power Dynamics

I’ve spent many years looking for a model of primary types of power within an organization. Identifying these forms of power allows them to be used consciously, and in a more collaborative manner.Here I present some early notes on my explorations and how they could relate to the first tier Spiral Dynamics levels.


Edit: Based on feedback from Ria Baeck and Adam Pearson I’ve changed some of this text. I was trying a little too hard to fit my own ideas into the theories of Spiral Dynamics — because I wanted to connect this directly with Teal Organization concepts. However, I don’t have a deep enough understanding of the depth of Spiral Dynamics, and was probably not being very honest. I’ve updated the text to try to reflect this a little better.


In exploring the ideas and thinking around Teal Organizations, it’s very easy to obsess over the properties of these advanced ways of working. Unfortunately, for many of us, this is the equivalent of a toddler trying to study an Olympic sprinter. There may be some great aspirations, but there is a huge chasm of experience and practice in between.

Instead of focusing only on what Teal Organizations do well, I feel that we should take a careful look at everything that needs to come first. In Spiral Dynamics theory Teal/Yellow is a “second tier” level. My suspicion is that we cannot really build at the second tier unless we have the first tier in place.

Ken Wilber’s Prime Directive states: The health of the entire spiral is the prime directive, not preferential treatment for any one level.” So, how do we know that we are looking after the whole spiral? If we can build an organisation that is strong at all the first tier levels, will second tier properties begin to emerge on their own?

The Types of Power

For the last few decades, I have been exploring models of change and growth. These 6 types of power are the result of my own classification system. When exploring Teal and Integral theory, I found the Spiral Dynamics models seemed to reflect my own, and offered some new, interesting insights.

The idea of the first and second tier levels provides a very useful dividing line, and gives us an ability to focus on a type of working. If we need to pay attention to all levels of the spiral in order to build a second-tier, Teal, organization, then we need to have a way that allows us to clearly address the first tier.

Below I define the first 6 types of organizational power, which relate to my interpretation of the first 6 phases of organizational growth. I will, over time, continue to explore their relation to Spiral Dymanics.

Perhaps you may find it useful, or be able to point out errors in my judgement. All are welcome. Down below, I provide some of the background thinking.


Power 1: Direction

The power of direction allows a group to focus their energy. It defines what kinds of roles and actions are valued and the scope for their application.

Concepts

  • Working with questions
  • Problem definition
  • Clear personal motivations

Practices

  • User stories
  • Story mapping
  • Jobs to be done
  • very clear ideas

Power 2: Production

The means of production and resource allocation defines what kinds of work is possible. This power is able to manage what kinds of input and output are valued.

Concepts

  • Iterative working
  • Roadmaps
  • Digital skills
  • Agile
  • Lean

Practices

  • Kanban
  • scrum

Power 3: Memory

“We do things this way because it’s what works.” A true learning organization can be established by allowing existing practices to be challenged and evolved through an emergent, communal aesthetic.

Concepts

  • Style guides
  • Patterns
  • Assumptions
  • Knowledge sharing

Practices

  • Action research
  • Journal-ling
  • Atomic Design

Power 4: Process

How work is actually undertaken through process, control and regulation. When processes can be evolved and updated, an organization will be able to adopt new technologies and practices.

Concepts

  • Meeting facilitation techniques
  • card based working
  • automation

Practices

  • advice process
  • circles & Governance meetings

Power 5: Authority

How authority is exercised and how decisions can be overruled defines an organisation’s ability to adapt to new situations. When data and evidence can override seniority, new ideas can take root.

Concepts

  • Conflict resolution
  • Test and See

Practices

  • Socratic questions
  • The circle way
  • Distributed authority Roles

6: Trust

Trust powers the emotional structure of an organization. Trust and the emotional connections at all levels of an organization need to be actively maintained to ensure that the human environment is healthy and promotes engagement.

Concepts

  • difficult conversation techniques
  • consent and consensus

Practices

  • Peer contracts
  • non-violent communication

The stages of growth

The model I have used to define these 6 stages has developed over the years from my work and study. I have worked to understand the way groups grow and adapt, the different phases in a project, explored the language of the Tarot, the Zodiac and begun to lean more about the Spiral Dynamics theories.

There are many systems that offer vision of the stages of growth in individuals and groups, and it is possible to project them onto the levels of Spiral Dynamics. I hope, over time, to grow my understanding of Spiral Dynamics so that I can express more of my growth models within this system — and thereby connect it closer to the Teal ideas.

The 6 levels I describe are based on phases of growth, defined in a way that allows them to be seen as components of a whole system, with various practices and ways of working that can be ascribed to them.

Concepts and practices

I’ve taken a stab at defining a few concepts and practices that would be relevant at the various levels. Many ideas will fit at multiple levels, and there are a huge number I have yet to even learn exist. For now, these examples are a way to clarify the ideas a little further.

I have come from a digital background, and so have been working to identify practices that are relevant to teams and organisations working in this domain. Many practices are universal, but to make my life easier so far, I have not tried to work with every possible option.

The search for sets of related practices

One of my intentions in seeking out this kind of model of the 1st tier is to find small sets of related practices that can be adopted to increase collaborative practices and thinking over time.

Sets of practices that cover the whole first tier could be introduced step-by-step, allowing for an organization to gradually develop it’s capabilities in a holistic manner, starting with the basics.

I truly believe that these next stage practices are vital tools for building a better future, and we need to make the path to their adoption as clear as possible. It’s not easy to unlearn a lifetime of experience, and people look for any excuse to stick with what they know. When collaborative practices are introduced piece by piece, if we don’t have the right supporting ways of working, it can be painful. I hope that, by finding a model that can describe a whole system, we can make step by step adoption more stable. And if we get that right, we can get going on fixing the future! ;-)