Edge Dwellers Café Podcast: Emerging ecologies of non-hierarchical organisations with Sarah Houseman

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.

Original episode link via PodBean.

00:00:00  Introduction.

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.

01:38:03  Conclusion.

Show links

About Sarah Houseman

Governance, Systems and the Shaman  |  Twitter  |  LinkedIn

About Ben Habib, host of Edge Dwellers Cafe

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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.