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How to Lead an Organic Organization

Today’s front-runner leaders know that improving their organization’s culture from reactive to proactive creates both a healthy climate and a healthy bottom line. One option to accomplish this is to change from a mechanistic, top-down culture to an organic, flat culture. This shift in decision making improves communication at all levels of the organization. Implementing this kind of change takes a true commitment from all the leaders beginning with the ultimate authority, the one leader, who is accountable for the success of the entire organization. Complete organizational success is the ultimate task.  A place to start to create an organic culture is to educate all the leaders about the difference between rigid (mechanistic) guidelines and self-renewing (organic) guidelines.

Mechanistic guidelines can impede leadership growth by replicating business as usual methods, discouraging risk taking, and limiting creativity. I recently worked with a client who wanted to shift more problem solving and creativity to her leadership team, so she could take her company to the next level of growth. She was discouraged by a lack of participation when she asked for input and ideas. By honestly looking at why this was happening we discovered that there was no support for mistakes and that expectations for success were unrealistic. Her idea of delegating did not include any support for creative conflict or permission to be approximately right. Guidelines were clear but too rigid. Shifting to flexible guardrails encouraged the team to explore options and feel confident that mistakes made within those guardrails were acceptable and necessary. The entire leadership team is now aligned on how to do problem-solving and explore new options.

Organic organizations have leaders who decide HOW things are done, before deciding what, when and by whom. This orientation better prepares an organization to successfully steer in the constantly changing waters of modern life. Focusing first on process (how) vs people (who) ensures longer term and more effective problem solving and is vital to an organic culture.

I suggest that the leadership team use the following comparison to determine which kind of guidelines exist in their organization.


  • Set clear expectations. Everyone knows how to be successful and how they will be rewarded and held accountable
  • Have checks in place to define non-negotiable behavior. Anyone who is not willing to comply should be allowed to leave the organization.
  • Train and educate leaders for improved skills.
  • Do problem-solve in real time.
  • Make sure everyone knows the vision and how to contribute to the organizational goals.


  • Develop the company Purpose, Vision, and Mission with a cross-section of organizational members so that everyone in the organization can be successful.  Working with common values (Purpose), knowing where the organization is going long-term (Vision) and its goals to get there (Mission) ensures all players will have the option to step up or step out.
  • Focus on how to get things done then prioritize what gets done.
  • Develop leaders and teams that have the right level of authority to solve challenges as they occur and where they occur in real time. This cuts back on wasting time in meetings.  
  • Encourage mistakes as part of learning to navigate with a roadmap. The right kind of accountability and rewards ensures there are guardrails.
  • Spread authority appropriately throughout the organization to avoid making decisions in silos or by the same few people, who then delegate. This encourages expanded knowledge and know how to deal with opportunities and threats where they live. This builds organizational muscle for creative risk-taking.

Business leaders who know that the company already holds the answers and will take the time to find them, instead of rushing to a short-term solution, is on the way to creating a long-lasting organic structure and a healthy bottom line.



Mechanistic Organic
Individual specialization:
Employees work separately
and specialize in one task
Joint Specialization:
Employees work together and
coordinate tasks
Simple integrating mechanisms:
Hierarchy of authority well-defined
Complex integrating mechanisms:
task forces and teams are primary
integrating mechanisms
Decision-making kept as high as possible.
Most communication is vertical.
Authority to control tasks is delegated.
Most communication lateral
Extensive use made of rules & Standard
Operating Procedures
Mutual Adjustment:
Face-to-face contact for coordination.
Work process tends to be unpredictable
Much written communication Much verbal communication
Informal status in org based on the size of an empire Informal status based on perceived
The organization is a network of positions,
corresponding to tasks. Typically, each person corresponds
to one task
The organization is a network of persons and
teams. People work in different capacities
simultaneously and over time.All work is aligned to a common Purpose, Vision, and Mission.

Source: http://www.analytictech.com/mb021/organic_vs_mechanistic_structure.htm

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