In this episode of the Edge Dwellers Cafe Podcast, I’m joined in this spirit of Utopia-inspired critical bewilderment by Sarah Houseman to talk about her PhD research into non-hierarchical organisations. We discuss the many functional problems that arise in hierarchical organisations, from power relationships to functional organisational stupidity and leadership cults. We also explore non-hierarchy and decentralisation as alternative organisational structures, along with the challenges faced by organisations transitioning from hierarchical to horizontal structures.
00:03:55 Sarah's professional background in business and not-for-profit sector.
00:06:59 The limits of Education for Sustainability.
00:10:43 A career spent lamenting the problems of hierarchy in organisations.
00:12:50 Lineage of non-hierarchical organisational governance ideas from the 1960s social justice movements.
00:16:14 Non-hierarchy does not mean no structure.
00:17:12 Case study organisations from Sarah's research: Friends of the Earth (Melbourne),
00:21:31 Influences from recent scholarship on decentralised organisations.
00:23:21 Compatibility of online work with decentralisation.
00:24:05 Power relationships and the transition from hierarchical to horizontal organisation.
00:30:59 Sarah and Ben examine intersectional power relations in their relationship.
00:34:19 Non-hierarchical governance is based on consent.
00:37:39 The toll of psychological de-coupling and the unlearning of hierarchical roles.
00:42:18 Consent vs agreement in non-hierarchical decision-making.
00:45:10 Power, fear and functional stupidity in hierarchical organisations.
00:46:59 Anthropocene-appropriate decision-making and governance.
00:50:38 Problematising the archetype of the 'leader'.
00:54:19 Bringing ecological systems thinking and reflexivity to organisations.
00:56:56 Inter-generational shift in reflexive thinking about hierarchy.
01:00:39 Static relations of power vs dynamic relationships of care.
01:04:23 Illustrating power dynamics and organisational ecologies through drawing.
01:07:09 Creative methodologies and other ways of knowing using the Tarot.
01:10:29 The Tarot as a symbolic interpretive device for unlocking the emotional experience of working in an organisation.
01:15:51 Archetype of the 'circle' as organisational form.
01:19:21 Reflecting on the founder's dilemma in Sarah's case study organisations and in Ben's experience in the permaculture movement.
01:25:17 Organisational life cycles and generational change.
01:27:29 Balancing need for escape and healing vs need for accountability.
01:31:42 Un-learning coercion.
01:33:49 The invisible labour of women in organisations.
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