Leaders Library: Human Consciousness and the Need for an Evolving Organization

During dinner each night I ask the kids how their day was.  I get very long and elaborate answers to this question, like “good,” “fine” or “boring.”  Why are their answers so lackluster? Because the real juicy stuff is not for Mom and Dad. It’s for Snapchat or Instagram, or good old fashioned texting with friends.

But when I ask my wife, or she asks me how the day was, the answers are filled with emotion, energy and detail.  They involve things like “I had a great day, we worked on xyz,” or “I was with a client and we discussed the market,” “I cannot believe this person’s actions,” or “this person is great, I laughed so hard when this thing happened.” We talk about people and interactions with emotion.

It never really dawned on me why this difference existed, until the other night when my kids were talking about student clubs and student government. Suddenly they were on fire. The emojis were flying. (Just kidding – we were really talking not tex170016-PB-Blog_04_24_17ting). But the point is they had real opinions and real energy.

Why the change? I think it is largely due to the fact that my kid’s needs are evolving. They’re experimenting, growing and moving beyond the structure of family and school. They’re interacting at different levels with different people, and getting exposed to other structures, like class project teams, student government, after school clubs and so on.  And their expanded experience with these types of organizational structures coincides with their own growth and development.

Evolving human consciousness requires evolving human structures

This got me thinking about a book I read, Reinventing Organizations by Frederic Laloux.

Laloux makes a simple yet powerful point: organizations and structures are manmade, functioning as needed vehicles of human collaboration.  As such, organizations and structures must “evolve to correspond to the evolution of human consciousness.”  I know that sounds deep, but stay with me. His point is pretty simple: we need to craft our structures to match the evolving needs of our people.

Remember Maslow’s hierarchy of needs?  As you progress though Maslow’s pyramid, your needs change, and what once satisfied you no longer feels right or fulfilling. If the structures or organizations you operate in do not change with you, you’ll feel frustrated and unsatisfied – and that includes your workplace.

Most of us have felt this frustration in our own lives – and workplaces – at some point. In fact, according to Gallup’s 2017 State of the American Workplace report, “The majority of employees are not engaged and haven’t been for quite some time. Employee engagement has barely budged over the past decade and a half.”

The risks of the static organization

Laloux argues that we need to change our organizations to better match the evolution of the people that now work in them. Otherwise we run the risk of losing them to employers who do modify their structures (the same Gallup report has an entire section devoted to “U.S. Workers: Increasingly Confident and Ready to Leave”).  The only thing worse than losing our people to our competition would be having people work for us who do not engage their whole spirit and are not tapping into their full potential at work.

I see it everywhere. I see it at home. I see it in school. I see it at work. I feel it as a consumer. In our knowledge-based economy, intelligence is distributed, but power is still centralized in most organizations. Does that structure really benefit the employee, the customer or the shareholder? Or does it solely benefit the person in charge?

How leaders can support evolution

What can we, as leaders, do? Laloux provides concrete ideas about how the structure needs to evolve.

I don’t think you can flip an organizational switch, nor does LaLoux, but we need to be aware of how our employees—like our maturing children—are changing.  As leaders we need to experiment with and modify the structures we use to more appropriately organize their collaboration and interactions.

I am passionate about this topic. Laloux’s book struck a cord and provides some great context.  I have started experimenting with this on my team, with an idea I call “responsive connectivity.” It involves engaging my employees, partners and customers in dialogues about their needs.  I am trying to put meaning and purpose into work, not just filling our days with activities and tasks.  This blog is part of the dialogue.

What do you think?  Does your structure at home, work or school need to evolve and if so, how?  Join the journey…if we are doing it right, this should be fun. Please share what you are doing and your results here.

Gotta go – time to peruse my kids’ Snapchat account and find out what really happened at school today.