Building pyramids, going to the moon, running a business. Whether big or small, each time a project requires the involvement of several people, it is a small miracle when it actually happens.
The most common structure to get things done we are all familiar with is the hierarchical one - the pyramid. Some people at the top give order, and the chain of command goes down to the bottom for execution. Those at the top have control, and those at the bottom have clarity.
It has proven efficient for thousands of years in simple system and in some complicated system, but it seems today irrelevant for the complex adaptive systems we are operating in.
First of all, the amount of information and parameters to take into account for wise decision, especially in a fast-changing environment, makes it impossible for a few people at the top to know everything, and even more to decide as quickly as it would be necessary.
Moreover, for the people at the bottom, being deprived of the decision-taking power and the ability to make things move forward might become a strong source of frustration, and lead to a massive waste of energy and potential.
Last but not least, it is a structure whose purpose is explicitly to get things done. It does not exist to grow relationships, create engagement or bring meaning - hence it does not resonate with what today’s young workforce is actually looking for in an organizations.
Where can we go from there? Is it possible to imagine a structure that would not only enable us to get things done, but to actually do it with flexibility, engagement & happiness?
One framework that we have been introduced to by our friend and mentor Steve, and that we rely a lot on is called the “Circle – Triangle - Square”. We have been using it for Knowmads, as well for organizing Art of Hosting Training and launching The Learning Hub.
The “Circle – Triangle – Square” model.
Or : Conversations are great, but getting shits done is even better.
The Circle represents the organization as a whole.
In a circle as in our organisation, there is not hierarchy and everyone sits as equals. Since there is no boss, we all share ownership and responsibility -which creates an environment that encourages participation, engagement and trust.
With no explicit leader, what actually leads us is the purpose of the organization, that everyone committed to work for, following agreements and principles that have been decided together.
The “Circle” (that represent the organization as a whole) is a form that invites for deep listening, for collective intelligence and for reflection, and that holds a few crucial roles:
It is first of all the guardian of the purpose and principles, calling everyone back to it when necessary.
On a practical way, it is also the place for coordinating all the actions happening - the multi-headed project manager.
And much more than that, it is also a place for reflection on learnings, a place for constantly refining and revisiting the purpose and a place for processing any disturbance in the organization - coming from inside or from outside.
The Circle operates with processes that invite conversations between team-members. It is those conversation that actually allows people to feel engaged, tapping into their need for connection and meaning. It is a place where every voice can and will be heard, spreading the power and using collective intelligence.
The Circle is definitely a wonderful place, but the danger is to get stuck in it. Because unfortunately you don’t get things done by talking about it.
That’s when the Triangles get into to the pictures.
The Triangles are groups of people working on specific parts of the project (marketing, finance, legal, this or that specific project,...)
Once a Triangle has been formed around a task, it is fully empowered by the Circle to do it, in support of the shared purpose and in accordance with principles established in the Circle. For the sake of efficiency, the invitation is for the Triangle to self-organize independently and to take full ownership of its mission.
In exchange of this full trust, the Triangles are responsible to the full Circle for their area of work. If something comes up that makes it critical, it is their responsibility to ask for support or clarification. It then goes back to a shared responsibility within the Circle to figure out a solution and adapt accordingly. With practice, triangles become increasingly skilled at recognizing when to act independently and when to check in with the circle; this is part of the art in this style of working.
The word “trust” keeps coming back here. Trust is indeed the fuel that keeps the whole thing running, and the oil that prevents it from breaking.
It then all come down to a simple question: how do you build trust? How do you create a frame where people feel safe enough towards each other to be able to put their energy in the work, instead of in anxiety, control and silent resentment?
The last part of our model, and the one that is so often overlooked is the Square - the frame around the organization / project / team, that will hold it together.
In our case, this frame is the result of a never-ending process of nurturing our relationship with each other, and slowly building trust and clarity by having the conversations that matter.
What is our collective purpose? How do our individual underlying purposes support the collective purpose? Who are we all? What are our strengths hopes, dreams, fears? What do each of us need to work well with others and to be fulfilled in his/her work? Where do we want to go in one month, one year, 5 years, individually and collectively? How can we deal with our resources - what do each of us need, what do each of us consider as fair?
These conversations do not happen magically, and are usually constantly pushed back by the emergency of the task-doing. Maintaining this dynamic on a regular basis requires a full conviction that talking to each other is often the most important and urgent task of each day: if trust & connection are the fuel of our whole model, it has to be constantly nurtured, and nothing matters more.
All the practices described previously, all these things that we do, are nothing than more than our fuel production system. The outcome is fully intangible, and also the most precious asset of all.