The concentration of power at the top, separating colleagues into the powerful and the powerless, brings with it problems that have plagued organizations for as long as we can remember. Power in organizations is seen as a scarce commodity worth fighting for. This situation invariably brings out the shadowy side of human nature: personal ambition, politics, mistrust, fear, and greed. At the bottom of organizations, it often evokes the twin brothers of powerlessness: resignation and resentment. Labor unions were born from the attempt to confederate power at the bottom to counter power from the top (which in turn tries to break the power of unions).
The widespread lack of motivation we witness in many organizations is a devastating side effect of the unequal distribution of power. For a few lucky people, work is a place of joyful self-expression, a place of camaraderie with colleagues in pursuit of a meaningful purpose. For far too many, it is simply drudgery, a few hours of life “rented out” every day in exchange for a paycheck. The story of the global workforce is a sad tale of wasted talent and energy.
If you think this is too strong a statement, consider the 2012 survey conducted by Tower Watson, a human resources consulting firm. It polled 32,000 workers in the corporate sector in 29 countries to measure employee engagement (as well as the key factors contributing to engagement, such as confidence in senior management and the perceived interest by senior management in employee well-being). The overarching conclusion: just around a third of people are engaged in their work (35 percent). Many more people are “detached” or actively “disengaged” (43 percent). The remaining 22 percent feel “unsupported.” This survey is not a negative outlier. The same survey has been administered for years, and in some years results have been worse still. Gary Hamel, a scholar and writer on organizations, aptly calls survey results such as these the shame of management.
Pluralistic-Green Organizations seek to deal with the problem of power inequality through empowerment, pushing decisions down the pyramid, and they often achieve much higher employee engagement. But empowerment means that someone at the top must be wise or noble enough to give away some of his power. What if power weren’t a zerosum game? What if we could create organizational structures and practices that didn’t need empowerment because, by design, everybody was powerful and no one powerless? This is the first major breakthrough of Teal Organizations: transcending the age-old problem of power inequality through structures and practices where no one holds power over anyone else, and yet, paradoxically, the organization as a whole ends up being considerably more powerful
This chapter will address in detail the structures that make self-managing organizations possible―what becomes of the pyramid, the staff functions, the executive team, the project teams that we know from today’s organizations? The following chapter (2.3) will then describe the practices needed to make self-management work: who gets to make what decisions; how information flows; how people are evaluated, promoted, and compensated in these new structures.