Metaphor: An organization as a tree

Daniel Mezick posted my Holacracy book review on Facebook . . .

. . . and Michelle Holliday replied with the following metaphor of an organization as a tree.

Here’s an excerpt of Michelle’s reply (my emphasis in bold) :

If we think of an organization as a tree, the roots can represent the people who work there. The leaves, branches and fruit can represent their unifying purpose – their “fruit” or offering out into the world, their relationship with customers and community. The roots and leaves are where life enters the system (nutrients from the ground in the case of roots, sun and photosynthesis for the leaves). The connective and supportive trunk represents the infrastructure of processes, rules, practices.

… most of the trunk of a tree is dead. There’s just a thin layer of living tissue called the cambium right under the bark where life flows from roots to leaves and from leaves to roots. So the trunk is dead, but it’s necessary to raise up the leaves to the light and life of the sun and to bring that life down to the roots.

The machine view of organizations tells us that the infrastructure (the trunk) IS the organization, and employees and customers are external to it. It puts people in service of the non-living infrastructure, rather than the other way around. And that leads inevitably to lifeless bureaucracy. … with people filling life-less roles in emotion-less service of the rules and process. The rules and processes are useful, but let’s keep them in their proper place – in support of the life in the system.

— Michelle Holliday

I love Michelle’s metaphor!

Published by Jan Höglund

Jan Höglund has over 35 years of experience in different roles as software developer, project manager, line manager, consultant, and researcher. This is his personal blog where he shares his reading, book reviews, and learning.

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