by Mats Eriksson
You have probably already heard this ancient wisdom tale: There was once a king who wanted to marry off his daughter. Naturally he wanted to find a smart and wise son-in-law. So he arranged a test for all her suitors. They had to go into a dark room and determine what was in it.
One suitor after the other came out of the room with bright, clear insight shining in his eyes. One after the other convincingly and eloquently described what he had found. One had found a pipe, another a rough wall â€¦ a rope, two sails hanging, two spears, four columns–. As they started arguing and debating, the king held his head sadly, wondering if his entire realm was inhabited by fools.
Then, the palace janitor came by on his cleaning rounds. He went into the darkened room, turned on the lights and called out, â€œLook, there’s an elephant in here!â€
All fables have a point: this one shows how easy it is to get stuck in a limited perspective. Too many managers and organizations (and most management techniques currently on the market) suffer from at least one basic blind spot, to the point where we can’t see the forest for the trees. This fundamental blindness is the greatest single problem facing modern management. Leaders make decisions in the dark all the time, based on just a fragment of the entire picture. You could call it single perspective blindness. Management techniques are sold, bought, learned and applied before everyone has first agreed on a realistic understanding of a company. In other words, before anyone has turned on the lights.
Over time it has become clear that we no longer can regard a company as a piece of machinery. The Command and Control paradigm of management, with its navigation system based on historical financial data, is totally outdated. We can now state with conviction: The traditional paradigm was based on a misunderstanding of what a company really is. Perhaps we should start by asking ourselves: What is a company â€“ really?
Philosopher and author Ken Wilber is probably the worldâ€™s leading spokesperson for a more Integral approach. Wilber maintains that any field of study or situation that needs to be managed can only be dealt with effectively via an All Quadrants All Levels (AQAL) approach. The All Quadrant aspect signifies that you always have to look at every situation using four very different but complementary perspectives. The individual and the collected perspective, but also the objective and the subjective aspects, always have to be considered if you want to approach any subject in an integral manner.
When it comes to companies, we can study the performance and behaviour of the individuals that make up the company, but then we can also view the company as a collection of individuals. As a collection, they make up a whole complex social system as they interact with each other, as well as with external suppliers, customers and society at large. Both the individual and the group perspectives are, according to Wilber, essential in order to understand the dynamics of a company.
The second demarcation line runs between the objective and subjective aspects of a company. The objective aspect is what first meets the eye; quite simply that is everything visible and observable. This includes people, buildings, machines, equipment, products, documents, money and much more.
The final perspective defines and determines the dynamics and functions of a company more than any of the others: the subjective domain, or in plain language, ‘what goes on in people’s heads’. As soon as you begin to take an active interest in the subjective domain you find powerful causes for the success or failure of any company. This includes factors like people’s level of maturity as well as the quality of leadership – both are interior or subjective aspects of the individuals that make up the company. If we move to the group subjective dimension of the company we find all kinds of cultural issues; we may find shared attitudes or values, or the lack of them and we can also find a widespread sense of belonging, loyalty and identity with the company, or the lack of it.
What do we see with the light turned on?
We don’t see machinery that can be run by a command and control management style. Is it possible that a company is a large, complex and volatile living system? Something that cannot be shaped and controlled the way you control a ‘piece of machinery’? With the lights on in all four quadrants, what becomes clear is that a company really is a living system that follows a few basic laws. Laws that can be managed through Integral Management.
What, then, do we really mean by Integral? Everyone knows that Integral means something is whole, complete and fully functioning – with no missing or broken parts. So a company is well integrated when it is whole, healthy and performing to its full potential. Right?
When leadership, teamwork and local initiatives from co-workers all coincide and pull together in the same general direction, then – and only then – can you begin to speak about a well-integrated company. Building such smoothly-operating and highly-maneuverable organizations is what Integral Management is all about.
Believing in Magic & Miracles
In order to know what is going on in people’s heads, a dialogue is necessary. Most managers use management hierarchies to communicate. A one hour PowerPoint presentation should do the trick, and then the message should effortlessly cascade down through the management structure.
That is a perfect example of corporate narcissism. “I am in the center of the universe, the rest of the people are just an extension of my own god-like appearance and they should read my mind in a way that immediately results in strategically focused plans and actions.”
Once the lights are turned on, it is obvious that a company needs to set up an infrastructure for communication and an engine for driving the strategy (and we are not talking about a new computer system). Anything else would amount to believing in magic and miracles.
An infrastructure for communication takes into account the fact (and it is a fact – if you have the light on in the individual and collected subjective quadrants) that humans need autonomy and belonging but also a meaningful direction for their work. No big surprise – people do want to contribute to the team and a meaningful strategy.
That takes professional dialogue. Trying to manage a company with severely limited access to everything that happens between the ears of your co-workers is definitely not a recipe for success. An infrastructure for driving a strategy. Integral Management is designed to take all these issues into account and removes the mystery from leading a company.
Getting this dialogue going is just the first step. The next step, plans and actions to influence how opinions, values and attitudes develop in your company. The ability to mobilize the group energy as well as the individual intelligence and creativity of every employee towards common goals is a competitive edge that no company can afford to be without.
Mats Eriksson, co-founder of Integ Partner, is a Swedish psychologist and communications expert. For more than thirty years he has designed and implemented infrastructures for corporate communications and strategy deployment in global multinationals. He and his wife Karin are the authors of integral business fable ‘The Salamander Club’. More information about their book and their work can be found at http://www.salamanderclub.com