The future of business organisations. Dynamics and methods for teamwork and self-knowledge
The old theory of scientific organisation of work consisted in conceiving organisational thinking only through structures and procedures; it is now discovered that the human spirit is the best integration tool for dealing with complexity.
Achieving outstanding results is not easy and not everyone can do it. Many factors contribute to this, such as one's talents, education, training, parents, teachers and, of course, luck. The places where you are born and spend your childhood and adolescence can also make a difference. But that is not enough. Other factors that are often underestimated also play a role in success or failure: one's own character and that of the people one interacts with, the types of relationships established with others, the ability to communicate, resilience to adversity, determination, willpower and the type of intelligence one is most akin to.
Although the scientific community has developed models for assessing intelligence, there is still no universal agreement on a single definition of intelligence. The progress of psychoanalytic studies in the 20th century showed that intelligence is the result of cognitive abilities (logic, reasoning, memory) combined with other aspects of personality and skills such as concentration, tenacity and the ability to moderate. The psychologist Howard Gardner, on the basis of research carried out on subjects suffering from lesions of neuropsychological interest, considered the IQ test less and less, while distinguishing nine fundamental manifestations of intelligence, deriving from different structures of the brain and independent of each other. It was then discovered that intelligence varies over time, can have a genetic predisposition, but is linked to learning, exposure to environmental stimuli and the ways in which these interact with the individual's propensity.
The various intelligences are therefore decisive in the results one achieves and obtains in one's life and social relationships. Modern society, characterised by high levels of complexity and interaction, increasingly demands collective and shared management of daily tasks and needs. Learning to relate well in a group makes it possible to reconcile the opinions and perspectives of very different people. These synergies can lead to excellent performance, provided that one learns to manage confrontation and coordination with others, keeping in mind what the common goals are.
Only when people interact with each other synergistically and on the basis of shared expectations, then, is there a group. But the actions of individuals within and outside the group hardly ever correspond to the same actions of the individual as such. In many circumstances, people may behave differently in a group than they would individually, sometimes even in the opposite way. It is the science of complexity that studies this phenomenon. Today we know that the overall, collective behaviour of the many interacting parties cannot be derived simply from the study of the individual components: the large number of elements and their interaction gives rise to new and different behaviours. This is due to the fact that the group often becomes a unit in its own right, independent, autonomous, with its own characteristics. And the group itself develops, or dies, depending on the interactions between the individuals in it. Many social psychology experiments have been conducted on group dynamics, the results of which have strongly stimulated research and the development of new ways of interacting. People come together for a variety of reasons, they may feel bound by emotional, idealistic or pragmatic aspects, because they have common goals, as happens in school, at work and in sport. They are all elements, however, within a macro area that is represented by the society and culture of reference. And perhaps for this very reason, in general, the hierarchy within the group is in turn related to the prestige and status of the subjects themselves within the society in which they live (we will see this aspect in the third part of the book). The exchange and relations that take place between these different individual identities form, over time, what is called group identity, and which can be defined as such when the individual members recognise themselves in it as elements of a superior entity, which unites and prescinds from singularities. Thus, as we have said, the group and its identity are not simply the sum of the individual persons who make it up and the roles they play among themselves and in society. The group and its identity are the result of the added value generated by the interaction of each of its members with the others and by the actions and reactions that are put in place by them, both as a stimulus and as an obstacle to others. The group is therefore a system in which all the members act with continuous interchanges, forming a single complex, subject to certain rules, called dynamics. Often, the common thread for these cases is the ability of the individual units of a group to conform to the needs and objectives of the group. It is possible to compare this dynamic with what happens in a flock of birds all ordered in formation or in a shoal of fish drawing impossible trajectories with incredible collective co-ordination or even to the dynamics of a team in the best sporting performance.
This is reactive intelligence: the ability to react, respond and adapt quickly to the dynamics, stimuli, actions and reactions that occur in a group depending on the changing environment.
Within a group it is therefore essential to develop this type of capacity, but also, and above all, another type of intelligence that has been much studied in recent psychology, the emotional intelligence. According to Goleman (2014), the art of leadership based on emotional intelligence makes it possible to achieve objectives through the quality of the work of all group members. The art of leadership," Goleman says, "is to lead and keep people at peak performance levels, and this happens when people are in the best state of personal well-being. It is an optimal state called flow, in which the person is amazed by the results he or she achieves. This state of maximum concentration has been analysed and studied by various psychologists, as we will see later. It is also necessary to consider that group dynamics are not only important for the achievement of personal or corporate goals, but also because they deeply condition the society within which the group interacts.
To understand this concept it is enough to think of negative examples, such as gangs in some neighbourhoods and mafia groups in crime, or positive ones, such as college study groups, sports and university centres, up to the stimulating environments of continuous confrontation in Silicon Valley. Groups create relationships that in turn generate continuous interactions of ideas, behaviours and actions that profoundly influence the members of the group, as well as individuals outside it and even other related groups. The environment that forms, grows and proliferates creates orientations of actions and theories that shape societies, as can be seen for example in political groups, religions and sects. To understand these forces, it is necessary to perceive how life is dependent on social relations. All human beings and some animal species, such as primates, cannot grow and develop without social relations. And it is precisely these interactions that can condition ideas and behaviour. Conditions that in some cases, the negative ones, can become real manipulations that induce behaviour beyond one's awareness, as opposed to the positive ones that allow the progress that has characterised humanity's successes. This brings us to the concept of social intelligence, i.e. the ability to relate to others in an efficient, constructive and socially compatible manner. Those who are more capable of developing a high level of social intelligence also have a greater aptitude and propensity to abandon individual interest and focus on the needs of their environment. They are creative individuals, with a developed critical sense and able to better analyse the complexity of reality.
Experts specialised in the psychology of the masses are well aware of this. Yes, because consensus - whether political, electoral, associative or otherwise - is achieved by being able to influence and manipulate public opinion. The last century has seen disastrous experiences in this regard. The anxieties and fears generated by economic crises as well as diplomatic crises have been used as determining elements of manipulation. Yesterday, as today, more and more communication tools, from radio to TV to the Internet, are used to inculcate these feelings in the masses. In virtual spaces such as social networks, consent to an ideology or a topical issue, regardless of its veracity, becomes an instrument of power. This is demonstrated by the development of movements against scientific logic that are spreading and growing exponentially. There are groups that promote ideals of racism and incitement to hatred, based on stereotypes and prejudices, or notional aberrations disseminated by terra-capitalists and novax. This phenomenon is due to the distorted perception of reality, caused by a lack of social maturity that prevents the correct analysis of the complexity that surrounds us. Recently, in support of Donald Trump, the extreme right-wing movement QAnon has caused a stir by denouncing the kidnapping, violence and murder of children in order to obtain a substance, adrenochrome, which is said to confer a kind of immortality. It is clear that such a high degree of consensus on such blatant distortions of events must be a cause for concern, and not a little, about the near future.
However, every individual, regardless of whether they work in a group or individually, always seeks maximum gratification from what they do. This aspect is fundamental and must always be taken into account in psychological dynamics. Gratification frees us from mass conditioning and allows us to overcome frustrations, but above all it generates a greater critical capacity that allows us to better analyse information and strengthen our self-esteem.
Being rewarded and receiving rewards corresponds to so-called reinforcements, which are particularly important in education. They are used to teach a certain behaviour or to eliminate a negative one. It is important to feel appreciated by others, but especially by oneself. Overcoming discouragement and anxiety, accepting oneself and valuing oneself is important in every context and area of life in order to strengthen one's confidence and abilities.
Therefore, the first strategic sub-goal to achieve success is to reach a state of gratification for every action one performs. The environment in which one most frequently experiences these emotions consciously or unconsciously is the workplace, where one usually spends most of the hours of one's life and, for this very reason, is the place where one should learn what are the best group dynamics to achieve the state of self-esteem.
The work of the Hungarian psychologist Csikszentmihalyi, one of the most important voices in the search for happiness, who in 1975 theorised the state of flow, i.e. maximum emotional involvement, the agonistic trance, is important in this respect. Everyone, at least once in their life, has experienced the experience of total immersion, finding themselves participating in something, an event, a situation, a sporting competition, a moment in a relationship, a work project, an experience so total and immersive that it isolates them from everything else, excluding all others and not allowing any distraction. This is often the case, for example, in gaming situations or sports competitions. The feeling of immersion and total involvement is called a competitive trance, the moment you need to reach in order to be able to feel unbeatable, to make your personal goal coincide with that of the group and achieve the gratification you seek and desire. When the state of flow is achieved, the individual and the group act in synergy and maximum performance can be achieved. The key is impulse control in regulating one's moods, so that they facilitate, rather than hinder, the thinking and motivation to persevere and try again despite failures. To achieve this goal, the road is long and it is often necessary to understand how to overcome the obstacles that life presents. Obstacles that in most cases are seen in a negative light and which, instead, stimulate one to find new solutions, new paths and thus become stepping stones of opportunity. This is the concept of resilience.
The flow is in fact represented by the lotus flower, a beautiful flower that is born in stagnant water, a metaphor for the negative perception that everyone feels when facing difficulties, but which allows the birth of something sublime. After all, this plant is the ideal representation of the human being who, despite being guilty of the worst destructive actions, has been able to imagine and create the greatest wonders of this planet, from art to engineering and technological progress.
By studying these psychological aspects and trying to imagine ideas that would allow the best company performance to be achieved, I experimented with a number of strategies to be applied in the field of the third sector (associations and foundations) and in the public health sector in which I worked, in particular in the management of the SOS (Simple Operating Structure) of nephrology and dialysis at the Cividale del Friuli Hospital, for which I was responsible until 2019. My aim was to find a valid and reproducible method to improve both the performance of the department and the quality of life of health workers and patients, without affecting the company budget.
In order to understand how to make the connection between organisational and individual development more effective, improve performance and thus achieve a state of flow, I have hypothesised four pillars that can support this process. These four pillars, analysed in the first part of the book on the basis of certain notions of neuroscience, psychology, philosophy and sociology, enable the development of what is known as horizontal leadership, which is explored in more detail later on.
The first pillar corresponds to lightness, not to be confused with the concept of superficiality, theorised by Italo Calvino in his Lezioni americane (Calvino, 1988). It corresponds to the need not to carry on one's shoulders a rucksack too full of doubts and unknowns that would prevent one from taking even the first steps along the impervious road to be followed to reach one's goals.
The second corresponds to communication skills. It is easy not to realise that often, and especially for abstract concepts, everyone attributes different nuances and meanings to words. These different meanings are influenced by one's character and personality, and it is precisely these different interpretations that create misunderstandings.
The third pillar is gamification, the application of game-like dynamics in non-game contexts. This phenomenon, applied in areas or situations that are usually boring and not very tolerated, as happens for example in work environments, generates processes and dynamics typical of the game, such as competition, participation and fun, collaboration and goal achievement.
The fourth pillar is the Teal concept (Technology-Enhanced Active Learning) which disrupts all the usual and established group dynamics, where status and hierarchy no longer have the usual values, where the leader is not a leader but an example. What counts in these cases is no longer just the success of the individual, but the fulfilment of the person in his or her entirety together with that of the group, where hierarchy falls away, giving way to peer-to-peer relationships, and where individuals can be compared to cells of a living organism capable of self-organisation and of developing deep relationships. These organisations are driven by an evolutionary purpose that looks beyond, with profit and economic interests taking a back seat. The Belgian Frederic Laloux (2016), who introduced the Teal paradigm, analysing the history of mankind, has highlighted how each stage of human development has corresponded to a different way of collaboration between people. From the most ancestral forms, characterised by top-down and dictatorial logic, to the increasingly modern forms, where horizontal logics have prevailed over the more archaic ones, with a view to pursuing the protection of the environment and of individuals. Over the course of human history, pyramid systems have progressively flattened out, becoming increasingly horizontal. The pyramid, where the supreme leader resided at the top and ordered his subordinates to obey, gradually became lower and lower, and the base became much wider: this is the concept of horizontality.
The horizontality approach, which considers individual development linked to organisational development, had already been introduced by the Dutch psychiatrist Bernard Lievegoed. His book Developing organisations (1973) was translated into English by the Tavistock Institut in London, which selected the best management books oriented towards the development of socio-technical systems. Lievegoed's ideas have been the inspiration for many innovative impulses of horizontal organisational thinking, such as in particular lean, Otto Scharmer's U Theory, Bekman's evidence methodology of IMO international and its developments (2007, 2010, 2017, 2018), the methodology of horizontal leadership and integrated organisations (LOOI), developed in a multidisciplinary project of the CNR with IMO International by Erica Rizziato (2020) who also took up the important impulse of Adriano Olivetti. In the future it will therefore be possible to find more and more new ways of leadership, accountability, assignment of tasks and recognition of merit.
Yes, even the very concept of meritocracy will be questioned. Today, in the predominantly capitalist system, meritocracy is the key word in the most successful and reputable companies. But, as Vittorio Pelligra explains in an article published in 'Sole 24ore', some aspects and evaluations are changing the value of this term. The myth of meritocracy is posited as a basic principle for a just society, but in reality it can also be seen as a dystopia, a moral legitimisation of inequality. If applied uncritically, the rhetoric of meritocracy leads one to think that it is necessary to reward, socially, economically, politically, those who have made it, the next step is the equivalence whereby rewarding those who make it implies punishing those who do not. Therefore, rewarding those who achieve results highlights those who have not managed to achieve them and inevitably increases inequalities, legitimising them by virtue of demonstrated abilities and objectives achieved. In fact, the myth of meritocracy may not be adequate as a founding and ordering principle of a just society. One should not underestimate, among other things, the role played by chance, circumstances, coincidence and, trivially, luck in contributing to success and achievement. Often, it is not only commitment, skill and determination that are enough, but also many other elements, including the tools and possibilities at one's disposal.
In any case, the transformation of corporate management according to horizontal leadership methodologies will revolutionise the very concept of the for-profit company. What is striking about these new organisational models is the emergence of new mechanisms for trusting and empowering employees, where responsibility and merit are distributed in favour of distributed gratification. People are no longer mere elements in a gear but part of an organisational structure whose practices make it revolutionary.
"Transforming workplaces in this way means re-bureaucratising and re-humanising relationships, replacing control and mistrust with equality and fair treatment, so that people can feel like human beings instead of human resources" (Isaac Getz, Professor at ESCP). In order to fully realise horizontal management, a fundamental prerequisite concerning the individual and his or her inner self must exist and be established. It is essential that people work on their individual evolution. First and foremost, it is the leader who must transform himself and understand that in this paradigm there are no leaders and, by virtue of this, must know how to manage and resize his ego to the benefit of the group. This entails not only a transformation of oneself, of the organisational structure and of the relationships that occur within it, but above all an inner development that fully involves the individual. People who participate in a horizontal organisation also take part in a psychological journey that involves the emergence of a holistic and comprehensive vision for the needs of the group.
Both in the Teal paradigm, as it has been realised in my applications, and in horizontal leadership, there are no "leaders" in the classical sense: people are called to be part of a holistic and comprehensive vision that connects the economic needs of the work group and the customers or patients.
Needs and objectives that can evolve and change perspective completely over the years. On the other hand, precisely because we are moving towards approaches that consider the organisation in the same way as a living organism, there is no standard model that can suit everyone, so it cannot be managed and conceived in a rigid manner, establishing a priori what is right and what is wrong. This requires, as Rizziato (2020) points out, "an exploratory and experimental approach in which subjects are experimenters and part of the process to be experimented, for which they take responsibility in various ways". As Laloux (2016) states "it will be the organisation itself, in practice, that will show what will work and what will not. What will not work will be discarded and what will work will spread quickly through the system'.
This book, therefore, recounts the progress during the years of research and experimentation, in which I deepened and tried to integrate Teal practices in a personal way. I later encountered the LOOI proposal, which stimulated my interest in the wide range of practices on the link between people and organisation development. This is also proposed in the book, albeit in a synthetic form, with the intention of contaminating my research with that of the CNR and IMO International.
These pages present a snapshot of what I have developed and am developing in order to seek ever better solutions to make organisations, especially the healthcare organisations in which I work, places of well-being both for patients and for the people who work on a daily basis to improve the support they provide to the community.
The search goes on, the challenge is great, pursuing it is part of the meaning of life and work and, therefore, of individual and collective social identity.
Massimiliano Fanni Canelles