"From pyramidal to organic structures"


Didier Marlier

February 22, 2010

From Disruption to Engagement

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I hope to have made the point by now that, in order to strive in the fast changing “Open Network Economy”, we should not rely on the traditional, pyramidal, leaders-dependent organizations but rather start design “intelligent organizations”. In other terms, we must help our enterprises to migrate from an organizational model towards an organic one.

What does an organic company/intelligent organization look like? All that published on the theme suggest that three elements are fundamental in creating such entities:

A strong and shared sense of Purpose (sometimes called Identity)

A permanent feedback loop, relating to the Purpose

A fertile ground of relationships

The next posts will elaborate on the two last points; I will focus this week on the first one:

A strong and shared sense of Purpose: In 1998, Ernst & Young produced a true collector‘s item, a CD-ROM called “Embracing Complexity”. In it, several leading experts in the field of Complex Adaptive Systems explore how their knowledge applies to business. The clip below is extracted from their work. It shows Lieutenant General Paul K. Van Riper, who had been Commanding General of the 2nd Marine Division. Van Riper also became famous when, after his retirement, he was asked to lead the “enemy” red team in US Army’s most expensive simulation to date, Millennium Challenge, a 250 million$ war game, in 2002. The experienced general used simplicity to counter the sophisticated machinery of the “Blue Team” and transformed his red army into an Apache tribe. Van Riper destroyed the blue army in two days, inflicting it the equivalent of 20’000 deaths and sinking sixteen warships, ridiculing Donald Rumsfeld and his generals, in an exercise supposed to last thirteen days[1]!

In the clip here below (please excuse the poor quality, 1998 remember) we see Lt. General Van Riper explain in some few words the power of having a strong sense of Purpose. The Marine whose collar is buttoned-up may seem anecdotal but it hopefully conveys the message: People intellectually compelled and emotionally engaged in a shared sense of Purpose do not need to be checked and controlled: they just “are” the Purpose.


Take the metaphor of an organic network we are familiar with: the human body. Each of its components has a shared and powerful purpose: to keep the whole “machine” healthy and functioning. All components are aware that a sick body will be detrimental to their own individual interest. Purpose is not created through corporate communication nor vision/mission statements. Purpose is something which emotionally resonates with the members of the organism and which is lived, very visibly by the leaders, each day. To make it more tangible, here is an “acid test” focused on the Purpose axis[2]:

‘Credibility and clarity’ test :

  • Do our people know what our company’s Purpose is?
  • Does it enable them to make clear choices?
  • Do they see the rationale of our Purpose?
  • Do they emotionally connect with it?
  • Is it in tune with what they see happening around them?

‘Come alive’ test :

  • Do our people see our Purpose happening everyday? Do they live the implications of our collective choices?
  • Can our people make it come alive? Does this Purpose give them sufficient guidance?

‘Purpose and energy’ test :

  • Does this Purpose truly generate energy? Is worth striving for?
  • Are our people willing to go the extra mile for this?

Our work exposes us to visit tens of companies per year. It never takes long to “smell” if there is a strong and shared Sense of Purpose there or if people happen to be there “Coz you gotta sing the blues to pay the dues”: Is there a pride to belong or does the receptionist bow down in obedience once your pronounced the name of the CEO? Do people passing by look at you in the eyes and make you feel welcome or is there hostility or neutrality versus the outside world? Do people seem energized or do they painfully wait for Friday night?

In Sao Paulo for a great week with Gerd Leonhard and our exceptional CEO’s Community in Fundaçao Dom Cabral… Have a great week all!

[1] http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2002/aug/21/usa.julianborger

[2] P.F.Ed (Proudly Found Elsewhere) from Nick van Heck work on strategy implementation www.elpnetwork.com


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“Engaging Leadership” has been written for leaders who are about to engage their organisations in change."

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