Welcome to the first post in our blog series, Reframing Structure. In these four articles, we make structures visible so we can see their oppressive and nurturing components, explore how we try to use structures to eliminate discomfort, and describe ways we’re trying to lean into structures that build relationships.
Certain members of our team love structure. It helps us thrive and do our best work. Others depend on it less. Our team negotiates these different preferences together and continuously. We know that common assumptions about structures include they’re restrictive, rigid, uncreative, and hierarchical. We sometimes hear the belief that eliminating structure will create equity.
In our experience, structure can absolutely be a way to create equity and inclusion. Structures can be nurturing and supportive, and they can create the kind of safety and freedom needed to be deeply creative and take risks.
But there’s a shadow side to structure–when it gets used to avoid our humanity and avoid difficult conversations and values-based decisions.
- A meeting agenda is created with no time to hear questions or concerns.
- A workflow is used to eliminate face-to-face meetings.
- Vacation and leave policies are used to avoid individual conversations and accommodations.
- Performance evaluations lack personal feedback, and performance metrics used to make HR decisions for us.
- A set of meeting notes, rather than a conversation, is used to communicate expectations.
To start addressing the ways we misuse structure, we first have to make the invisible visible. We can usually see the organizational structure. Sometimes workflow structures are clear. But there are structures all around us, often informally or invisibly shaping our behavior and reflecting unstated values.
Think about the ways your organization structures meetings, and whether those expectations are stated or unstated. Or the way power is structured among your leaders and employees. Or the structures that determine how you communicate with different people in your organization.
In the next few weeks, we’ll dig into the ways we contort ourselves to fit structures that are killing us, what a nurturing structure might look like when it’s built to support our humanity and our relationships.