In a recent article in the Integral Leadership Review, Mark Edwards (2009) suggested that Integral Leadership may be viewed from three holarchical lenses: developmental, ecological, and governance. The following paper proposes Elliott Jaques’s theory of Requisite Organization (RO) as a meta-theoretical framework for integrating these three lenses. The implications of RO as an integrative framework is examined in context of business and Integral Leadership practice, along with opportunities for further study.
Three Lenses of Integral Leadership
Edwards notes that “the multilevel nature of organisational life is a reflection of the stratified nature of social reality”. Leadership operates in a holarchy of relationships, which Edwards examines from three different lenses: developmental, ecological, and governance. These lenses each operate as holarchies, providing a view into the nature of leadership within the context of the social reality that each lens both serve to define and construct.
The Developmental Lens
Leadership through the developmental lens takes into account the stages of growth of adult development. Researchers (Fischer 1980; Kegan 1982, 1993; Torbert 2004; Commons 2008) have put forth various definitions for the stages of adult development beyond the developmental stages initially proposed by Piaget. Regardless of their different descriptors, all of the models recognize development as a multi-level process where subsequent stages inform and transform preceding stages. Likewise, subsequent stages represent epistemologically more complex ways of operating, which are beyond the capacity of preceding stages to grasp.
An example of this dynamic can be seen in the work of Robert Kegan (1982, 1994). For Kegan, the process of adult development is centered on subject-object theory, which both describes the challenge of adult development and explains the epistemological nature of mental organization required for the construction of meaning. Kegan notes that mental organization:
- Describes “how one constructs experience more generally, including one’s thinking, feeling, and social relating”;
- Focuses on structure or “…organization (the form of complexity) of one’s thinking, feeling and social-relating not the content…”;
- Has an inner logic;
- And each of these principles is “intimately related to each other.” (1998 pg. 32-33)
The inter-relation of these dynamics makes each subsequent stage of development both transforming and qualitatively different than the next as “[e]ach successive principle subsumes or encompasses the prior principle. That which was subject becomes object to the next principle. The new principle is a higher order principle (more complex, more inclusive) that makes the prior principle into an element or tool of its system” (p. 33).
The subject-object distinction described above reflects both the process of transformation and the constraint that is the challenge of adult development. The “Object” Kegan refers to is “those elements of our knowing that we can reflect on, look at, be responsible for…it is distinct enough from us that we can do something with it” (1998 p 32). For Kegan, “’Subject’ refers to those elements of our knowing or organizing that we are identified with, tied to, fused with, or embedded in…. We cannot be responsible for, in control of, or reflect upon that which is subject” (p.32). Therefore, adult development is characterized by the shift of subject-object relationship, where what a person is subject to becomes object and in so doing reframes and transforms the way we make meaning. How experience itself is perceived and constructed changes at each stage of development.
The Governance Lens
The governance lens addresses the processes of power and decision-making throughout the organization. It attends to the dynamics of leadership and followership and the interplay in roles at all levels of the organization. Edwards notes that “a more balanced appropriation of the governance lens see leadership and followership as co-creative partners in the production of systems of organisational management and regulation”.
The Ecological Lens
The ecological lens recognizes leadership as inter-related interactions that manifest through “the multilevel process of leadership as it is distributed throughout the micro, meso, and macro layers of the organization” (Edwards 2009). In this regard leadership operates as a dynamic process of communication at various levels in the organization that shapes and makes sense of (Weick et al 2005) the activity of the organization as it unfolds. This unfolding takes place in the process of the interactions themselves—the basis for Relational Leadership Theory (Uhl-Bien 2006). Edwards further notes the importance of ecology on the emotional environment within the organization: “Organisational departments cannot be healthy and safe places to work in unless the micro-level networks of interpersonal communications are friendly and conducive to personal wellbeing.”
In Requisite Organization (2006) Elliott Jaques considers the dynamics that enable an organization to be successful. He considers requisite—that which is required by the nature of things—the structures and processes required when considering diversity in human capabilities so that people “can trust each other to work together in an honest and straight forward manner…use their personal capabilities to the full, both to their own satisfaction, and to contribute fully to the successful functioning of the organization” (Jaques 2006, Introduction). Based on his extensive research, Jaques outlines the structures that enable effective organizing in employment settings. This distinction is a significant one. Jaques notes that prior to industrialization human organizing was based largely on associations, which he defines as “a body made up of individual members come together for a common purpose” (Ibid., Glossary). Participation in an association may be voluntary (such as a church or club) or involuntary such as citizens of nation-states. The industrial revolution resulted in a radical change in the workforce as employment shifted from farm or trade (largely self-employment) to wage-based work within companies. It is in this context that Jaques explores the functioning of the Managerial Accountability Hierarchy (MAH) as the requisite structure to enable work effectiveness.
Jaques emphasizes the importance of the hierarchy in the form of the Managerial Accountability Hierarchy (MAH) as the means by which work is delegated based on an understanding of work complexity and human capacity to complete the work. Hierarchy provides the structure for accountability within an organization to complete the tasks required to achieve organizational goals. Jaques develops an extremely detailed approach to the manager-subordinate relationship and the dynamic chain of command from CEO to front line associate that the MAH provides.
The manager-subordinate relationship is the foundation for getting work done. The manager is responsible for defining the work requirements and holding the subordinate accountable for the completion of assigned tasks. Tasks represent discretely measurable activities—a “what” to be completed by a specific time. A task is measurable in terms of Quantity, Quality, Time to complete with necessary Resources (QQT/R). Work involves “the exercise of judgment and discretion in making decisions in carrying out goal directed activities” (p. 13). Thus the work that a subordinate undertakes is the exercise of judgment and decision-making required to complete assigned tasks. The manager holds the subordinate accountable for completion of tasks. In turn, the manager is held accountable by his or her manager (Manager Once Removed or MoR) for the tasks the MoR has assigned the manager and for the use of resources (including subordinate’s work) to complete them. In this way, no matter how long the chain of command, there is a continuous chain of accountability that permeates the organization.
The manager-subordinate relationship fosters bidirectional dialogue. The use of judgment and discretion on the part of a subordinate includes informing the manager of obstacles that may occur in completing an assigned task. Such obstacles may include prioritization of time and resources against competing tasks, and raising awareness of challenges that could jeopardize completion of the task to standards (QQT/R). It is ultimately the manager’s responsibility to decide how to allocate the subordinate’s time and priorities, and the manager will be held accountable by the MoR for the resulting outputs. Thus manager-subordinate relationship as defined by RO, clearly identifies the accountability of both the manager and subordinate.
Work Complexity & Human Capability
The operation of the MAH and manager-subordinate relationship is further informed by Jaques’ understanding of the development of human capability. Jaques notes that work can be structured based on levels of complexity and that an individual’s ability to satisfactorily complete work of a given complexity is directly related to the individual’s Complexity of Mental Processing (CMP). He defines CMP as “the maximum scale and complexity of the world that you are able to pattern and construe and function in, including the amount and complexity of information that must be processed in doing so” (p.p. 18).
Jaques’ understanding of CMP aligns with current studies in adult development. Adult development is also associated with the ability to resolve tasks with increasing orders of complexity. Commons in his overview of the Model of Hierarchical Complexity (2008) notes that tasks of increasing complexity involve the non-arbitrary coordination of two or more tasks of the next lower order and that by so coordinating them, the lower order tasks are transformed. Commons and Ross further note that a relatively small percentage of adults operate at post formal levels of thought (Commons and Ross 2008).
Jaques accounts for these differences in mental processing in the structure of the MAH, by organizing the hierarchy in strata based on the capability of workers to handle tasks with a specific level of complexity. Jaques noted that there are four primary modes of mental processing: declarative, cumulative, serial, and parallel. Each of these modes represents increasing complexity. The modes follow a recursive pattern between the symbolic and conceptual stages, which represent post-formal stages of development.
Time Span as a Measure of Human Capability
According to Jaques, the unit of measure to assess the functioning of an individual’s mental capacity is the time span associated with the completion of the task. The longer the time span required to complete a task, the more complex thinking is required to achieve it. So an individual’s capability can be assessed on their ability to complete work of a given time span—the longest task they are able to complete represent their capability. Similarly, a manager’s assessment of the longest time span for a task assigned to a role defines the stratum of that role. Organizational strata are structured based on capacity to do work of a specific level of complexity and requiring specific capabilities in mental processing.
The following table summarizes the strata as defined by Jaques. Note that as the time span increases, the function of the work changes, taking on a more strategic and abstract nature, and requiring more complex mental processing.
The various strata also play a key role in the manager-subordinate relationship. Based on Jaques’ research, to be effective, a manager must be operating one stratum above the capability of his or her direct reports. This would imply that the manager has the mental capability to assess work at a higher level of complexity than his subordinates. The manager is likewise able to delegate work of lesser complexity to subordinates who have the capability to complete the tasks at that level. In this way, Requisite Organization provides a systemic model for the deployment of work of varying degrees of complexity to the right level for completion. The CEO, operating at a 20 year time horizon, can identify tasks that are required to achieve the desired results in 20 years. Those tasks can be “chunked down” and delegated to Business Unit Executives as tasks to be completed in 10 years. They may then assess the work and in turn define projects to be completed in 5 years which are delegated to their subordinates. This creates a top down alignment of work with employees held accountable for tasks of a complexity aligned with their capabilities and at the same time aligned with the strategic direction defined by executive management.
Management and Leadership
Given Jaques’ emphasis on management so far in this discussion, the reader may be wondering what all this has to do with leadership (let alone Integral Leadership). Jaques defined leadership as “the accountability in some, but not in all roles, to influence one or more others…willingly to accept the leader’s purpose and goals and all to move in the direction set by the leader by suffusing authority with leadership practices appropriate for that role” (ibid. p.95). Leadership is perceived as a set of practices that are intricately tied to roles within the organizational hierarchy. These leadership practices are viewed as essential complements to the authority structure established in the MAH. Management (the process of holding subordinates accountable for tasks assigned) without leadership influence creates the lifeless bureaucracy that has tainted many contemporary perspectives on the validity of top down hierarchical management.
RO as an Integrative Lens
Returning to Edwards’ discussion of the three lenses informing Integral Leadership, I would suggest that RO provides an integrating framework for aligning developmental, ecological and governance lenses. This alignment is due to the fact that Jaques’ approach integrates the three lenses in the manager-subordinate holon upon which the MAH is constructed. The M-S holon is depicted in Figure 1.
The management-subordinate relationship is developmental in that, by definition, a manager must be operating one stratum (i.e. developmental stage) above a subordinate. Since the MAH organizes workers based on their developmental level and ability to deal with work of increasing complexity, the manager-subordinate relationship enables an action-logic (Torbert 2004) that is inclusive of the developmental capabilities of the workers. The manager is able to assign a task that is aligned with the subordinate’s skill and ability to complete it. The ‘work’ of the subordinate is to “apply judgment and discretion in making decisions in carrying out goal directed activities” (Jaques 2006). Part of this judgment is to provide feedback to the manager about obstacles—from the subordinate’s frame of reference as a subject matter expert—that may impact the subordinate’s ability to complete the task. Given that the manager is operating at a higher developmental stratum, s/he should be able to assess the viability of the subordinate’s feedback and adjust task expectations accordingly.
The manager-subordinate relationship addresses governance by clearly defining the manager as the decision maker as it pertains to tasks assigned to the subordinate; and in turn, it is the manager who is held to account for the work results. Since the manager is operating at a developmental stratum that is one level above the subordinate, s/he is capable of perceiving work with greater complexity than the subordinate and in a better position to make decisions pertaining to tasks at that level. This accountability passes down to the subordinate who in turn may manage others. At each level, the manager is held to account for decisions related to tasks s/he assigns.
It is important to note that while the manager may have accountability for decision making at a given level, that does not dismiss the role of the subordinate in the decision making process. The subordinate is expected to provide advice and recommendations to the manager based on his experience and judgment. The manager takes this feedback into account.
With this in mind, the manager-subordinate relationship also addresses the ecological lens for Integral Leadership. The manager-subordinate relationship is the primary holon through which the network of organizational relationships is woven—vertically in top-down and bottom-up interactions, and horizontally through collaborative and cross-functional interactions. As defined by RO, the management-subordinate relationship determines accountability for decisions grounded in the developmentally oriented relationship between manager and subordinate. When integrated in a holarchy of management-subordinate relationships, the power and dynamics of RO becomes more apparent. This dynamic is illustrated in Figure 2, which displays the vertical integration of two M-S holons. The manager is now subordinated to the Manager once Removed (MoR), who is operating at the next higher developmental stratum. The MoR is able to conceptualize work of a more complex nature than the Manager, and is positioned to make decisions and hold her subordinate accountable for tasks assigned. She is also engaged with the Subordinate once Removed (SoR) as part of the assessment of the ongoing growth and development of the employee. In this regard, the system as a whole is able to continuously assess the lines and stages of development of employees to ensure they are positioned appropriately for best effect within the organization.
All along the hierarchical chain tasks are assigned to workers with a capacity level commensurate to the complexity of the task. While hierarchically oriented, decision-making is distributed throughout the organization with clarity as to who is responsible for decisions made and accountable for the outcomes of those decisions.
Jaques also takes great care in elaborating how the requisite organization of the MAH is used to address horizontal accountabilities. The manager-subordinate defines a Task Assigning Role Relationship (TARR). An employee may also be in a Task Initiating Role Relationship (TIRR), requiring collaboration with another employee operating at the same stratum and with whom the initiating employee has no authority to require action. Jaques provides guidelines for leveraging the accountability of the MAH to engage the respective managers and coordinate the assignment of tasks horizontally.
There remains significant opportunity to expand our understanding of RO and its role in helping to resolve the complex problems that we face today. RO as described here is focused on working relationships in the context of a business setting, where employees exchange their time and talent to complete tasks for pay. In the employment relationship, Jaques recognized that work for pay establishes a different accountability between the employer and employee for tasks performed, and RO provides a structure that enables accountability, good decision making and trust. However, not all organizations are based on employment. Associations, according to Jaques, usually operate based on voluntary participation of its members. In this context governance is typically by vote or consensus and there is no mechanism to hold members accountable for participation.
While Jaques’ work focused on the dynamics of the MAH in business settings, there is opportunity to further explore RO in the light of new trends in leadership research, particularly as it pertains to emergent and adaptive leadership in complex adaptive systems (Marion and Uhl-Bien 2001). RO, while dismissing leadership theories that emphasize specific characteristics of the leader, remains focused on leadership administrated through specific roles and relationships, rather than as a dynamic process embedded in the social interactions (Marion and Uhl-Bien 2007). Yet, RO also represents an integral model for leadership and organizational effectiveness. As Putz notes, “The essence of any Integral approach…is an analytical framework that brings together the interior and exterior dimensions of reality in a balanced and systematic fashion” (Putz 2006, p.93). By integrating awareness of developmental stages into the organizational structure, Jaques has sought to create a balanced environment that operates as an integrated whole for the effective achievement of organizational goals.
My intention in this short paper was to suggest Requisite Organization as a metatheoretical framework for integrating the three lenses for Integral Leadership presented by Edwards. RO does integrate these three lenses by structuring work based on a clear understanding of adult development and work complexity, and provides a dynamic process that self organizes governance, and decision making into an ecological network of relationships with clear accountability for results. In subsequent articles I hope to further explore the implications of RO to Integral Leadership.
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Scott Pochron is President of Bridge Catalyst – a business coaching and consulting organization specializing in leadership development and complexity. He has worked as a CPA, technology consultant, Chief Information Officer, and business strategist in multinational companies. He is a Certified Coach through the Meta Coach Foundation. Mr. Pochron holds a degree in French and Transcultural Studies from Lake Forest College. He is currently pursuing graduate studies in Leadership and Complexity at Antioch University McGregor. He can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org.