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Governing in a living system

When we talk about the new type of organisations we see emerging – organisations without a hierarchy, that function more as living eco-system – we often get the question: “But how do they steer? Without a hierarchy – how doesn’t it get just an anarchy? Doesn’t people just do what they want to do and not what’s best for the business?”. A fair question! Especially since these organisations often also are successful in their business – how does it work?

Before going into trying to answer the question, let’s just imagine playing a football game without a referee. How many of us would cheat? Most of us would probably be very honest, admitting the ball were in or “OK, it did pass the goal line”. It’s everyone’s responsibility to make it a fair game. And how does it work with a referee in the field? Someone who is enforcing the rules of play and being the final decision-maker in the game? If the referee doesn’t notice that the ball went over the line – would we say something about it? Probably not. It’s the referees’ responsibility!

With this metaphor as a mirror – how do you steer a living system? First of all, they all have clear rules of play – often called a constitution. It describes why the company exist, what they want to create, how they view the world, how they want to run and steer the company. You could say it’s a complete integration of strategy, governance model and leadership culture. It gives direction on how to run processes, how to take decisions. And it’s non-negotiable – if you are here you need to accept the playfield. This integrated with high levels of transparency, where everyone has access to most information and everyone can see what the others are doing, creates an arena where entrepreneurship and autonomy can grow, but that requires accountability and co-creation. Everyone is the CEO, everyone is the referee – everyone is taking responsibility. So governing is someone that everyone does, themselves and others in the system as well.

We at Gaia have strived to be a living system since the start and mor specifically since 2018. And for sure it’s an adventure and learning lab every day. We have created a story of our constitution, it’s created mostly for internal sense making and learning – but if someone presently outside Gaia is curious to learn more about our story to become a system that integrates autonomy and co-creation, our story is here.