Power in organisations is a difficult subject.

One of the most important and yet least discussed elements in any change process is the renegotiation of power. And I’m not talking about reporting lines or titles.

I’m talking about power in a broader and more social sense:

Power that derives from things like influence, knowledge, access, connection or status, and that allows those who hold it to establish their ideas, norms and behaviours in their social group.

But most of us cringe a little when we hear the word power. And don’t we want to get rid of power structures in organisations altogether rather than renegotiate them?

With movements like New Work, Servant Leadership and a new-found love of collaborative innovation spreading through organisations of all sizes, the idea that power is useful or even necessary seems a bit outdated.

And yet the problem it solves isn’t going away. Group dynamics research defines power as a „tool for reducing complexity in groups“. A process of organising the group to act efficiently. Nothing more, nothing less.

However, many teams avoid talking openly about their power dynamics for the aforementioned reason. People don’t want to be seen as power-hungry, old-fashioned, dominant, selfish – all the things we associate with the term.

But whether we like it or not, the need to organise and reduce complexity will always be present in social systems – especially when they are changing. But what constitutes this power, who gets it, and what it entails, is not set in stone. It can be contested. But as long as we find the idea that some of us have more power than others morally questionable or frightening, we deprive ourselves of the opportunity to discuss this „how“ and to find better solutions.

Sounds familiar?

Executive coaching for challenging times

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