Creating a Chaordic Organisation

Principles developed by Dee Hock when he built Visa

Dee Hock rescued and built Visa as a 'chaordic' organisation. He then disappeared, to prove that the concept did not depend on an individual leader. This is a summary of his approach.

Purpose – A clear, simple statement, understood and shared by all, of that which would come into being if all objectives were achieved. That which identifies and binds the community together as worthy of commitment and personal effort. An unambiguous vision or concept of the future.

Principles – The behavioural aspirations of the community. A clear, simple statement of fundamental beliefs shared by all with respect to the structure, means and conduct by which the purpose will be pursued. The fundamental beliefs against which all subsequent decisions and actions will be judged, dealing with such matters as vesting of power, distribution of benefits and conditions of governance. Must have a high degree of ethical and moral content, which does not prescribe behaviour but guides it.

Concept – A general view of the best possible institutional embodiment of purpose and principles. A perception of structure which could be trusted to be just, effective and equitable with respect to all discussions, decisions and acts in pursuit of purpose in accordance with principles. A perception of eligibility, rights and obligations of participants in the community. A general picture of the desired relationships.

Structure – The specific anatomy of the organisation. Details of ownership, voting rights, leadership, methods and methods of deliberations, decisions and acts. The contract of rights and obligations between all members of the community. The details of the embodiment of purpose and principles, usually in the form of a charter and constitution or certificate of incorporation and by-laws.

People – The initial members of the community and the leadership essential to effective initiation and evolution of the purpose, principles and structure. Practice - The deliberations, decisions and acts of all members of the community acting within the structure in pursuit of their common purpose in accordance with their principles.

Each of the six elements can be thought of as a lens through which the participants examine the circumstances giving rise to the need to conceive a new organisation or reconceive an existing one. The most difficult part of the process is releasing preconceived notions about the nature and structure of organisations and to understand the origin of them. It is best done by adopting the perspective that, if anything imaginable was possible, if there were no constraints whatever, what would be the nature of an ideal institution to (Purpose)?

The first step is to define with absolute clarity, common understanding and deep conviction the purpose of the community. If properly done, this rarely results in more than a single sentence. When the statement of purpose is established, the next step is to define with the same clarity, conviction and understanding, the principles by which those involved will be guided in pursuit of that purpose. Each principle will illuminate the purpose and call it into question. Each principle will also illuminate and call into question every other principle. People must bring to the effort the wholeness of mind, body and spirit. In the beginning the discussion will often result in platitudes rather than principles. Rarely will the process result in more than a dozen principles, which, taken as a whole, including the purpose, constitute the body of belief which will bind the community together and against which all subsequent decisions and acts will be judged.

When the purpose and principles are complete, one can then explore what general concept of organisation could best embrace the purpose and principles. It is often discovered that no existing form of organisation can do so and that something new must be conceived. The process of developing the new concept will call into question the purpose and principles which may then be further refined. Every step in the process illuminates the subsequent and preceding steps, allowing each to be constantly refined and perfected.

Once the concept is clear, then, and only then, should the details of the organisation be constructed in the form of an actual charter and by-laws incorporating, with precision, the substance of the previous steps.

When the organisation is then brought into being, it will inevitably attract the kind of people required for success, since they are drawn to the clarity of shared purpose, principles, concept and structure. If you get the purpose right, you may get the principles right. If you get the principles right, you may get the concept right. If you get the concept right, you may get the structure right. If you get all four right, you are very likely to get the people right. If you get purpose, principles concept, structure and people right, you will inevitably get the practice right and realise your purpose far beyond your original expectations. Properly done, the inevitable result is a self-organising, self-governing complex capable of constant learning and evolution.

Click here to buy "Birth of the Chaordic Age" by Dee Hock.

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