In this episode of the Edge Dwellers Café Podcast, I’m joined in this spirit of Utopia-inspired critical bewilderment by Sarah Houseman to talk about her PhD research into non-hierarchical organisations. We discuss the many functional problems that arise in hierarchical organisations, from power relationships to functional organisational stupidity and leadership cults. We also explore non-hierarchy and decentralisation as alternative organisational structures, along with the challenges faced by organisations transitioning from hierarchical to horizontal structures.
00:03:55 Sarah’s professional background in business and not-for-profit sector.
00:06:59 The limits of Education for Sustainability.
00:10:43 A career spent lamenting the problems of hierarchy in organisations.
00:12:50 Lineage of non-hierarchical organisational governance ideas from the 1960s social justice movements.
00:16:14 Non-hierarchy does not mean no structure.
00:17:12 Case study organisations from Sarah’s research: Friends of the Earth (Melbourne),
00:21:31 Influences from recent scholarship on decentralised organisations.
00:23:21 Compatibility of online work with decentralisation.
00:24:05 Power relationships and the transition from hierarchical to horizontal organisation.
00:30:59 Sarah and Ben examine intersectional power relations in their relationship.
00:34:19 Non-hierarchical governance is based on consent.
00:37:39 The toll of psychological de-coupling and the unlearning of hierarchical roles.
00:42:18 Consent vs agreement in non-hierarchical decision-making.
00:45:10 Power, fear and functional stupidity in hierarchical organisations.
00:46:59 Anthropocene-appropriate decision-making and governance.
00:50:38 Problematising the archetype of the ‘leader’.
00:54:19 Bringing ecological systems thinking and reflexivity to organisations.
00:56:56 Inter-generational shift in reflexive thinking about hierarchy.
01:00:39 Static relations of power vs dynamic relationships of care.
01:04:23 Illustrating power dynamics and organisational ecologies through drawing.
01:07:09 Creative methodologies and other ways of knowing using the Tarot.
01:10:29 The Tarot as a symbolic interpretive device for unlocking the emotional experience of working in an organisation.
01:15:51 Archetype of the ‘circle’ as organisational form.
01:19:21 Reflecting on the founder’s dilemma in Sarah’s case study organisations and in Ben’s experience in the permaculture movement.
01:25:17 Organisational life cycles and generational change.
01:27:29 Balancing need for escape and healing vs need for accountability.
01:31:42 Un-learning coercion.
01:33:49 The invisible labour of women in organisations.
01:35:58 Rotation of responsibilities.
- Leadermorphosis Podcast: Ep. 24 Sarah Houseman on new governance for the Anthropocene.
- Sarah Houseman. “Non-hierarchies: Creating the conditions for a new ecology of organisational governance – a response to Professor Farley“. ANZSEE 2019 Conference Blog.
- André Spicer. “The power of pitfalls and functional stupidity at work“. TEDxWandsworth. 10 December 2016.
- Brian Robertson. (2015). Holacracy: The New Management System that Redefines Management. New York: Henry Holt and Company.
- Frederic Laloux. (2014). Reinventing Organizations: A Guide to Creating Organizations Inspired by the Next Stage in Human Consciousness. Brussels: Nelson Parker.
- Sociocracy (Wikipedia).
- Jo Freeman. “The tyranny of structurelessness“.
- Joyce Rothschild-Whitt. (1979). “The Collectivist Organization: An Alternative to Rational-Bureaucratic Models“. American Sociological Review. 44(4), pp.509-527.
- Katherine K. Chen. Enabling Creative Chaos: The Organization Behind the Burning Man Event. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
- Utopia (Australian TV series).
- Charles Bramesco. “Office Space at 20: how the comedy spoke to an anxious workplace“. The Guardian. 19 February 2019.
About Sarah Houseman
About Ben Habib, host of Edge Dwellers Cafe
- Ben@Earth: https://drbenjaminhabib.com/
- LTU staff profile: https://scholars.latrobe.edu.au/bhabib
- Twitter: https://twitter.com/DrBenjaminHabib
- YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC2oPQqZhJ8CAPbNqIDlf8_g
- ORCiD: https://orcid.org/0000-0003-3087-4828
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- Logo design: Sarah Cook Design (email@example.com).
- Thumbnail artwork developed using Deep Art Effects.
- Intro music: “Lala Bass” by Adele_Newiron from Pixabay.
- Interlude music: “Relax (Drum and Bass)” by vjgalaxy from Pixabay.
- Interlude music: “Centyś – Energy 4” by abctoja from Pixabay.
- Interlude voice-over by Jess Love (https://www.jesslovefilmmaker.com/).
This podcast is broadcast from Naarm/Melbourne on the unceded lands of the Wurundjeri people. Edge Dwellers Cafe pays respect to their elders past, present and emerging.