All organizations fall within one of three states – chaos, control, or collaboration.

cha·os \ˈkā-ˌäs\
:complete confusion and disorder :a state in which behavior and events are not controlled by anything

By definition, to be organized requires some sort of structure. And structure exists only when clear responsibilities are coupled with some form of accountability to others. In the absence of one or both, there is no organization – hence a state of chaos. Think of the work group that lacks clear roles. When it is unclear who is doing what, confusion and disorder ensue followed frequently by frustration and disagreement.

Organizationally, chaos is at best unproductive and more often, destructive.

con·trol \kən-ˈtrōl\
:to direct the actions or function of (something)  :to cause (something) to act or function in a certain way  :to have power over (something)

From an organization perspective, the state of control is better than chaos.  Control creates order through the use of authority. With authority- or control- based organizations, select individuals define responsibilities for others and ensure they are held accountable for their actions.

We all know control-based organizations well:  a parent telling their teenage child to be home by 11pm and punishing them for failing to do so; or a policeman pulling over someone for speeding and issuing a ticket; or even a university president handing a diploma to a graduating student are all examples of authority in action.

Organizations today are largely designed using the state of control approach.  And even those organizations that pride themselves in involving members in decision-making or seeking input from others often have a state of control at their core.  As long as someone – anyone – in the organization has the authority to reward, punish or judge another’s actions that organization is based on control.  I often say “don’t confuse participative management with team work”.

Control brings order to a chaotic organization – but it is not collaboration.

col·lab·o·ra·tion  \kə-ˈla-bə-ˈrā-shən\
:working jointly with others or together especially in an intellectual endeavour

The state of collaboration is, first and foremost, marked by a common purpose. All organizational members work towards and equitably share in the groups’ output. Each individual understands their role and works diligently to contribute to the organization’s purpose so as not to let down the others. Individuals are responsible to their collaborators – there is a unique (and important) adherence to mutual accountability.

While organizations based on the state of collaboration are not limited in size, we see these elements most frequently in small teams or partnerships: three youths that band together to create a lemonade stand to raise a few dollars for a local charity, a group of concerned citizens that want to address a proposed zoning change, even two individuals that commit to each other and form a matrimonial union. All of these are example of individuals bound together by some common purpose without any overriding authority-based structure.

When simplified like this, we can see how a state of collaboration differs from that of a state of control. Yet somewhere along the line we have lost sight of what defines this unique form of organization. Perhaps that is a result of the rise, since the Industrial Revolution, in both prominence and importance of the bureaucratic organization. Today, too many organizations believe they operate in a state of collaboration when really they hold many elements of authority-based structure.

Having lost sight of the uniqueness inherent within the state of collaboration, we’ve created an organizational glass-ceiling preventing us from reaping the power and benefits of these organizations.

This site hopes to correct this problem. To fully explore the world of circles – or collaboration-based organizations. Together we can #ReThinkOrgs