The Paradoxical Organisation

Pattern number within this pattern set: 
David Wortley
CPSR, Global Society Dialogue (GSD), GlobalCN

Information Communications Technology (ICT) is facilitating an exponential growth in network connections between individuals, groups and knowledge, thus flattening organisational structures and threatening hierarchical relationships. These pressures challenge the sustainability of relationships, organisations and social structures and a fresh conceptual model for sustainable organisational development strategy is required to meet these challenges.


This pattern aims to be useful for organisations of any type seeking to develop strategies for sustainability. It emphasises the need for core values linked to the nature of the organisation's external environment.

It can be used as a basis for analysis and discussion by those who shape the organisation's structure and strategy.

It is especially relevant in a networked society


Historically, in the absence of today’s sophisticated networked connections, organisations typically developed in hierarchical structures, within which any individual entity had a direct connection to a limited number of other individuals or entities. These hierarchical structures provided a stable and predicable environment in which to operate and the relationship management demands on individuals were relatively low (by today’s standards).

With the advent of advanced networked communications providing rapid access to people and information, hierarchical structures in almost every kind of organisational relationship are being flattened and layers being removed altogether.

This phenomena is causing great stress for individuals and organisations alike, and without an alternative to the hierarchical model, is a long term threat to sustainability for many organisational models.

This is evidenced in many fields of human activity such as :-

· Trading where the process of “disintermediation” is threatening traditional distribution / retail models
· Management structures where layers of middle management are removed
· The growth in franchised operations


Therefore a new organisational development model is needed to address the twin issues of sustainability and stress in a networked society. The paradoxical organisation is a concept which addresses these issues and shows how an organisation could be simultaneously hierarchical and flat. The model concept is shown in the descriptive image at the head of this pattern, and the summary image below illustrates the different organisational relationships handled by the paradoxical organisation.

The characteristics of a paradoxical organisation are :-

· Strong core mission and values
· Grows yet still remains same size
· Simultaneous internal and external growth
· Flat Structure yet many-layered
· Direct connection between outermost layer and central core
· Rigidly strong yet highly flexible

Pattern status: