I've got lots of experience with working in hierarchies in non-hierarchcial ways. I've found ways to take initiatives and spawn innovations regardless of the stagnant outlooks above me. I've thrived on being self motivated and intrinsically rewarded while colleagues and managers seemed addicted to external motivators. I've been inclined to question authority and function with autonomy while others were dependent on the command and control of higher-ups. While my non-hierarchcial way of working got me into trouble and excluded me from promotions on occasion, more often it provided me with additional opportunities, accomplishments and personal satisfaction.
As I've psyched out those who get completely caught up in working in hierarchical ways, I've identified four patterns which can eventually become a passing phase of further personal development:
- Unmet dependency needs: When our own parents have seemed unreliable, unavailable or unsupportive to us, we become starved for positive parental figures. We remain dependent on those who seem bigger than us, more powerful and overbearing. We hope to get much-needed approval, recognition and validation from these authority figures. Hierarchies provide big daddies or big mommies at the top of the pyramid which satisfies these cravings.
- Living in the past: Unresolved issues make our past history seem very important to us. We experience our lives as stuck stories where the same things repeatedly happen to us. While dwelling in our past, we treasure reminders of poignant memories, traditions and rituals. We take comfort in legacy procedures, unchanging policies and unquestioned routines which hierarchies enforce.
- Symbolic gratification: We are poor judges of what will deeply satisfy us when acting out unresolved power issues. We need lots of stuff to prove to others and convince ourselves that we're powerful, confident and worthy of respect. We overcompensate for insecurities, victim stories and repeated incidents of powerlessness with very showy packages. We accumulate big things as indisputable proof. Hierarchies meet this need with big benefits, big paychecks for the higher ups and big responsibilities over others.
- Over-thinking conflicted issues: While we dealing with lots of irrational urges, we keep a lid on them with excessive rationality. We try to justify our actions and rationalize our decisions to keep from flipping our lid. We idealize our rationality and over-think any issue with emotional components. Hierarchies march these inclinations with excessive meetings, policy manuals and procedural compliance.
For either collaborative enterprises or lower cost/higher quality higher ed to function effectively, the participants need to be able to:
- self-structure their activities, take initiative and make adjustments to our conduct based on outcomes and other kinds of feedback
- take satisfaction in their processes and outcomes without getting formally evaluated, rated or scored
- get creative when faced with symptoms of deeper problems, complex system dynamics or dilemmas that defy problem solving
- collaborate with others who are valued for their diversity, consulted for their unique outlooks and treated as equals
While working in hierarchical ways, we cannot meet any of these four prerequisites:
- we cannot structure our own activities but we can comply with orders, wait to be told what to do and hide behind our job descriptions
- we cannot feel intrinsically rewarded but we can get motivated by how we rank, fit in and compete with others
- we cannot get creative but we can give lip service to the need for action and make a show of handling the problem with lots of busywork
- we cannot collaborate with others but we can envy their successes, demonize their differences and dismiss commonalities with them
For more see my next post: Healing the wounded workforce