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Reinventing Organizations: a case study

  • 19 November 2014
  • Posted by Marcella Bremer

There’s a new way of organizing and collaborating emerging around the globe – as Frederic Laloux shows in his book Reinventing Organizations. Let’s take a closer look at “new organizations” with a case study – and examine the three key things that they do differently: self-management, wholeness and purpose.

As I discussed in last week’s blog, organizational evolution matches the stages of human development. In short: Collaboration in the magic-tribal red phase looked like one tribe with a chief. They hunt-gather and fight the other tribes - trying to dominate. The metaphor: wolf packs. Then we created the agrarian revolution, 5000 years ago, and evolved toward amber organizations. They are structured with one boss, one god and laws. They are hierarchical and stable. The metaphor: armies. The scientific revolution led to orange organizations. People started to think instead of trust authority blindly. They understood they could make more profit if they were faster, used their thinking and innovated. The metaphor: machines. Our post-modern information age gave birth to more green organizations. People aren’t just productivity factors - soft skills become important in service and collaboration. Culture becomes important. The assumption: if people are happy and passionate - we’ll be okay as an organization. This is still ongoing. Green organizations outperform the former stage organizations. Their metaphor: we are a family. 1-stages-development What’s next? We’re approaching a fifth paradigm shift. Frederic Laloux researched “new” or "teal" organizations from many different sectors. Let's take a look at one such a new organization: Buurtzorg.

The Story of Buurtzorg

Buurtzorg provides neighborhood nursing - they work in people’s homes. The Netherlands had autonomous neighborhood nurses for ages, until the 1980s when the state pushed nurses to join organizations for economies of scale. “Orange” logic took over: they decided to specialize nurses; the expensive nurses did difficult stuff, beginners did simple intakes. They centralized with a call center, with standard times, and norms to apply compression stocking in 5 minutes etc. Nurses received a planning – “go here at 8 am and spend 10 minutes”. These organizations started to merge to get even more scale economies and power; nurses got supervisors, managers and levels. Clients hated the system. They used to have one trusted nurse. Now, they had new nurses all the time who were in a hurry. The nurses hated it - they’d been turned into a machine, and had less contact with clients. Jos de Block, a former nurse, created Buurtzorg in 2007. He gathered ten nurses - to have enough economies of scale and started to self-organize. Buurtzorg consists of 8000 people in 2014, their market share is 80% If you have 10-12 people - you can start a cell and Buurtzorg will teach you how to do this. Headquarters counts 25 people - they teach nurses how to operate without a boss: How to do meetings, make decisions, handle conflict? They work with 1-2 nurses per client, so there’s time for bonding, contact, and for coffee. Buurtzorg’s purpose is not just providing medical care, but to help people live meaningful, autonomous lives. A financial study showed that Buurtzorg uses only 40% of care hours prescribed by doctors, so they save money for the Dutch state that finances health care with public money. Buurtzorg also makes patients autonomous because they help them to organize other support and resources. Buurtzorg is a “new organization”. Do you see the difference?

Breakthroughs of new organizations

New organizations like Buurtzorg create three breakthroughs. First is self-management. Working without a boss in large organizations sounds like a recipe for chaos. The thing is: you need structure, but you don’t need a boss.

The second difference is Wholeness. There’s an expectation we show up at work with a professional self - which pushes us to wear a mask. Showing up with ego is normal – but it’s not our whole self. The masculine is appreciated; it means resolve, determination, being clear, looking forward and not backward. The feminine side is what you leave home: questioning, vulnerability, caring. The rational is equally appreciated in the workplace, but we are supposed to leave emotions, intuitions and spiritual considerations aside. In new organizations, it’s easier to show up with our whole selves – because they have created practices that accept people as they are – and entice people to show themselves. They brim with energy and authenticity. 8b-wholeness

The third breakthrough is Evolutionary Purpose.All organizations say they have a purpose, but the real priority is often money. Organizations put their competitive advantage in a vault. But Jos de Block, Buurtzorg’s CEO, helps his competitors. He explains how Buurtzorg works and how their purpose is to help people live meaningful, autonomous lives. De Block’s goal is not his organization, but his purpose. People love to contribute to a purpose, other than their self-interest. In the traditional organization the role of leaders is to create vision and strategy and to lead execution. The organization is an inanimate object - leaders program it. The new guys believe that organizations are living beings. The organization itself has a sense of direction that it wants to manifest. In new organizations, our role as leaders is to listen to where the organization wants to go naturally – and to align people and processes with this direction.

  • What do you think…?
  • Do you know examples of new organizations?
  • What are your experiences with self-management, wholeness (being yourself at work) and purpose?

Frederic Laloux is featured in Leadership & Change Magazine issue 13 - where he elaborates on the stages of organizational evolution. Read his book: Reinventing Organizations.

by Marcella Bremer co-founder OCAI online and Leadership & Change Magazine

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