Hierarchy - the need for prescription
|A classic example of a hierarchy|
What is hierarchy? Based on the original meaning of the word, it means "sacred order" - or, an order that must be maintained at all costs. A hierarchy is implicitly optimized to remain a hierarchy. This is about status, but also about achievement.
In a hierarchy, the highest person defines the goals for the entire organization. With their direct subordinates, they extract subgoals for those people - and so on. Everyone contributes to the common goal by following the prescibed personal goal and making those below them achieve their goals. The hierarchy would fail to achieve it's overall goal if anyone would deviate from their prescribed goal.
The main purpose of leaders in a hierarchy is to ensure goal alignment and goal achievement within their sphere of control.
Without this kind of prescription, the hierarchy would achieve nothing.
Anarchy - the absence of structureLet's look at the alternative to hierarchy: anarchy.
|Anarchy: The nightmare of every manager|
In anarchy, everyone has their own goals and pursues them as they see fit. The outcome of an anarchy depends on the outcome of the individual. There may be common goals or common directions, but they don't mean anything. Failure to achieve personal goals doesn't affect others, so the (not existing) organization in anarchy is unaffected by individual failure or changes to individual goals.
In an anarchy, there is no leadership and no control. Goals are not aligned, achieving a goal depends on the individual alone.
Is that what we have to choose between? If it were so, human society could indeed not function without hierarchy.
But wait ... this is the false dichotomy. There is an alternative:
Holarchy - Integral parts of the Whole
|In a holarchy, there is no "up and down" and no permanent structure.|
What is holarchy? It's quite difficult to understand if you haven't seen it in action. At first glance, the self-similar (fractal) structure may be considered a hierarchy, but it isn't. In a holarchy, there is nobody giving orders. There is also nobody listening to orders, and yet, people pursue a common goal. Nobody prescribes that goal, they take the goal and align around it.
A holarchy is much more effective than a hierarchy, because nobody wastes time defining goals for others and checking their accomplishment - everyone is fully focused on achieving the one, common goal.
People are not "managed" to achieve a pre-defined objective that partially contributes to an organizational goal, much rather they find others around them with whom they are better at achieving their common goal: people with whom they can share labour to achieve something better, something more, something higher than they could alone.
As activities and focus change and steps are accomplished, people's collaboration circles (holons) change dynamically. Every holon is transient and people may be part of more than one holon. Holons themselves may be part of holons. It all depends on what makes sense.
In a holarchy, leadership is different - it's as transient as the holons themselves. Holons aren't "managed", yet there are people forming holons and keeping them together, helping them move forward and joining them with one another. These people are leaders. They have no title and you may not even recognize them.