What organizational form best supports sustainable high vibrancy and extraordinary outcomes? This is the million dollar question, and Harvard’s Leith Sharp has found an answer that works — the dual operating system, which works with both the adaptive operating system and the command control operating system.
Leith finds that the adaptive operating system (depicted on the left side of the figure below) works best when leadership needs an applied learning focus on: (1) intrinsic motivation to enact shared purpose; (2) community structure and relationships; (3) boundary-crossing connectivity; (4) co-created change with leadership as a system; (5) socially supported learning through story; and (6) dynamic, transient, and multiple relationships. She finds that the command control operating system (depicted on the right side of the figure below) works best when leadership needs an execution focus on: (1) extrinsic motivation to enact mission & vision; (2) authority structures and transactions; (3) division and hierarchy; (4) top-down change, where leadership is linear, and (5) strategic plans with specific metrics and reporting.
Leith Sharp has been working to drive sustainability into the core business of higher education for the last 20 years. Along with a growing number of collaborators, she now champions the adoption of an adaptive organizational model that functions as a dual operating system harmonized around shared purpose. This model allows an organization to ensure that structure follows and aligns with purpose, rather than the other way around. She established one of world’s first campus sustainability programs in 1995 at the University of New South Wales (UNSW), Australia. Then for nine years, she was the founding director of Harvard’s Office for Sustainability, leading Harvard to become a global leader in campus sustainability. As a guest speaker in Leith’s program on sustainability leadership at Harvard this past July, I had the chance to work firsthand with these concepts with her.
When I map the dual operating system on to the Agreements Evidence Map, I see a strong pattern. When an organization focuses primarily at the outcomes level, they tend to organize their interactions through either the adaptive operating system or the command control operating system. Either one or the other. Those organizations working at the development and outcomes level, which corresponds to the middle circle of vibrancy, they often organize with both the adaptive operating system and the command control operating system. Both and. And, the organizations integrating all three levels of perceived reality — possibility, development, and outcomes — tend to organize their interactions by integrating the adaptive and command control operating systems.
This is an exciting, experience-based approach to designing organizational interactions that support both the develop-outcomes level of agreements and the possibility-development-outcomes level of agreements. More evidence that not only is it possible, but that organizations are achieving great success through with this organizing innovation.