Mastering the Shift from Hierarchy to Ecosystem

By Brent Lowe and originally published in @brentblowe on

Photo by Sagar on Unsplash

The promises of new ecosystem ways of working sound so good.

Radical responsibility.

Full transparency.

Decentralized decision making.

But how does an organization get there from here?

Here usually feels like: Policies. Bosses. Performance Reviews. Reporting Structures. Human RESOURCES. Middle Management. Incentive Plans.

Not so inspiring!

Along with my co-authors, I wrote Reinventing Scale-Ups as a way of sharing experiments in new ways of working. Since its release we’ve been helping more and more companies make the shift. Along the way, we’ve continued learning and have a few new things that can help you on your journey. Here are my top 5.

Listen to the Naysayers

Naysayers are a pain in the ass. They point out all the things that could go wrong. They push back. They resist.

And we need to listen. There’s gold in those opinions!

Until naysayers feel heard, understood and valued, their heels remain firmly planted. They keep retreating to the safety of what they know.

Take time to listen. Engage with the intention of hearing and understanding their concerns. Don’t try to change their mind. You can’t.

Over time, new possibilities for moving forward will emerge.

Focus on building new practices

The shift to ecosystem-based or agile or Teal or [insert your preferred name here] takes root once team members start working differently. They talk differently. Act differently. Meet differently. Decide differently.

Doing differently is anchored in new habits… or practices. Here’s the five part scaffolding I use with my clients.

1) Philosophies and intentions. What rooting philosophies & intentions will shape your new ways of working?

2) Principles and practices. Every company needs to develop its own set of principles and practices through experimentation. What are yours? (We explore many examples in Reinventing Scale-Ups.)

3) Rituals and routines. Once defined, how are the new practices kept alive and baked into the DNA of how your company runs? This usually requires some sort of cadence.

4) New colleagues. How will each new team member learn the elements core to your company’s DNA?

5) Reflect, review and refresh. What works now might not work 6–12 months in the future. Where is space created to review and refresh intentions, principles, practices, rituals and routines?

Learn how to give, and more importantly, receive feedback

Free-flowing feedback is a core, essential element of healthy ecosystems. Hierarchies, on the other hand, rely on the intermittent and funnelled flow of information. Since most of us grew up in the latter stilted system of feedback, we’re not great givers or receivers.

Invest the time to anchor your team to a shared approach to feedback. There’s no need to re-invent the wheel here. My preferred model is Radical Candor by Kim Scott. Crucial Conversations is another great option. Find one that works for you and invest the time in boosting everyone’s skill level.

Language matters

Language is imperfect but it’s what we’ve got. Shifting to new ways of working while using words associated with old ways of working… well… doesn’t work! We stay stuck in the past.

If you are working differently, describe it differently. If your old team meetings were top-down affairs, reshape and rename them to reflect a new participatory approach. One of my clients uses “Team Connect” to reflect the vibe of equal participation in their meetings.

Respect the journey of change

On the path from hierarchy to ecosystem, individuals cycle through three phases of change. For some, it’s a linear path. Others jump around.

Stage 1: The Intellectual Journey of Change

Do I get “it” (this new way of working) intellectually?

Can I define it with clarity?

Is my definition aligned with others’ definitions?

Can I intellectually agree with “it” and believe “it” makes sense?

Stage 2: The Emotional Journey of Change

How is this change personal to me?

Has “it” landed emotionally?

Am I ready to question long-held beliefs and personal views?

Can I let go of emotional attachments I have to the past?

Stage 3: The Practical Journey of Change

How do I need to alter my day-to-day patterns and habits?

In what practical ways do I need to change how I act and react?

Are you shifting from hierarchy to ecosystem? I’d love to hear your experiences.

Republished with permission of the author.

Featured Image/graphic link added by Enlivening Edge Magazine.