“Best Practice” Organizational Forms for Sustainable High Vibrancy

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.

Framework by L.Sharp & R.Gutter, adapted in part from J.Kotter, is licensed for open sharing and adapting under Creative Commons CC BY-AS 4.0

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.

3 thoughts on ““Best Practice” Organizational Forms for Sustainable High Vibrancy

  1. This is a brilliant post. I am looking forward to dive deeper into it this week. What excites me is the fact that I am again and again asked by groups working in a verb-noun or noun system “so what kind of organizational structure would you propose?” Giving an answer from my experience was one of “it is an integration of circular and hierarchical models.” Your post nails it in just a few simple words. Great! Thank you! The exciting question is now, what kind of resources, allocation mechanisms/ policy structures and cultural agreements are predominantly found in groups showing this kind of social/ organizational structure? Or said another way, what archetypes of agreement systems do we find here, and how does this relate back to a new level of sustainable (green) performance? Well… I assume that’s one of my questions for the years to come.


  2. Pingback: What Specifically Differentiates High Vibrancy Groups from Everyone Else? « Jim Ritchie-Dunham

  3. Pingback: Ambidexterity, dual operating models and backbone – Naomi Stanford

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.