Friday, October 02, 2009

The concept of "triangle leadership" came up during this 2006 visit to Bear Island, Buckminster Fuller's family home. Three of us were talking after visiting the geodesic dome: Bonnie DeVarco, visionary and Fuller scholar, Lauralee Alben, designer and leadership consultant, and me. We were inspired by the geometry of the dome to start thinking about the structure of relationships in an organization. Interlocking triangles are strong!

The idea seemed beautifully simple. A very strong triangle of people is a solid beginning. Then the organization builds as each person brings in someone else, and a new triangle (with two of the three originals and the new person) is formed. That way, the relationships are all "interlocking" (everyone is part of a trusted group of three). There may be homogeneity within a triangle, but as the organization grows, a great diversity of people will come together. As the organization grows, each person may not be "bonded" with all the other parts -- but they have a secure initial spot.

In theory, it works to the extent that there is attention to maintaining the closest bonds. In the beginning, each person bonds with two others. Ultimately each person would be connected to adjacent triangles: That would require maintaining bonds with six people. That's a lot to maintain for the bonds to hold. We've put it into practice in a couple of volunteer organizations and it works, but the challenge is to sustain the bonds when there's limited time and energy for the work. A common challenge with any structure.

Bob Johansen of Institute for the Future has written about the "Fishnet Organization"-- the idea being that you could pick it up at any point and the organization could mobilize to serve the whole.

My good colleague Joel Orr wrote a book with the title "Structure is Destiny" and I've observed his ability to apply Nature's principles of design to human endeavors.

GE's former CEO Jack Welch was famous for talking about the importance of human factors in business. But anyone leading an organization knows it's hard. Harder than geometry.