Organizational work—paid or unpaid—can be personally rewarding, or extremely draining. It depends if it’s a good fit. Organizations come in three sizes: small, medium and large. If your organizational life is a match with your personal preference, it’s a win! But, if it’s a misfit—a disconnect— you may be feeling frustrated, dissatisfied and even mildly depressed.
Like Goldilocks sizing up the three bowls of porridge, we all have a sweet spot—we know when we’ve found something that feels just right. And we know when things feel lumpy, bumpy or downright hard.
Whether pursuing hobbies, interests or working goals, the optimum environment helps us thrive: to give our best and receive what we need in return. There is such a thing as the perfect match!
Some people do their best work with minimal pressure and lots of conversation around shared activity. Others thrive with structure, program-goals and clear lines of communication. There’s a third type: those who grow under the dynamic leadership or one person on top, leading the way to an exciting new future. Small, medium and large—three distinct options which affect everything from preferred group-size and scope to organizational heartbeat or MO, to the comfort level with technology and visioneering. These are the major categories in which we see different organizational DNAs play out. Small & personal, or medium & managerial, or large & dynamic? Chances are, you are best suited to one size and type and tend to grouse under the other two. Like Goldilocks.
Q. What size organization would Goldilocks pick? A. The one that suited her best.
The following discussion highlights the DNA of each size and type of organization: S. M. and L. and explores their traits within three major categories—their heartbeat and approach to technology and vision—that tend to define the scope, potential and limits of our organizational life.
DNA: Small, Medium, or Large?
DNA is more than how you do things; how you speak, look or act. It’s your inner code, it has a directive aspect. It cannot be changed; it’s there by design. This is the same with an organization. A small organization looks and feels different than a large one. But sometimes people wired to thrive in one size environment wind up investing in another one, with puny, disappointing results. On the other hand, a better match might mean a better life! Organizational DNA is there by design: it affects everything, and by extension everyone.
ORGANIZATIONS WITH A SMALL, RELATIONAL DNA, generally like things low-key, relational, ground-level, connective and personal. (This has nothing to do with being small-minded obviously). This is size related: the equivalent of the Mom and Pop Shop, the ladies’ coffee klatch or the three guys in a garage reinventing the world. Things happen over drinks, conversation and through close listening. This is where and when people are able to tap into each other’s genius and weave those threads of talent and desire into something communal, coherent and truly beautiful. The small-sized organizational mindset is all about staying real and seeing people you know (and love) succeed in their endeavors, which are very much like your own. Of course, this may also be the germ, the seed, of another kind of organization down the road… but at its core, in its beginning, it’s all about friendship, about holding something in common and being willing to share, about growing together towards something largely undefined. This type of Organizational DNA knows the power of mutual support and encouragement.
A MEDIUM, MANAGERIAL ORGANIZATIONAL DNA sees things a little different. If this is your preferred way to work, then you are not content to sit around and chat. You fail to perceive the full value of relational-based conversation and community gatherings. You prefer to get things done. In fact, you possess a burning need to see things take shape ‘in the real world’ and for people to put their hands to the proverbial plough: to see things through. Successful, on-time, on-budget projects make you truly happy. The medium-sized organizational mindset is primarily managerial, project oriented, relying on top-down structure and shared accountability. This is also the type of organization people tend to join for the long haul; it’s about identifying with the goals; if you belong, you’re helping move the group towards the goal and this is more than anyone can do alone. Membership matters (it’s all about the group). This type knows the power of competent, reliable people working together towards shared goals.
A LARGE, EXPLOSIVE ORGANIZATIONAL DNA is about taking ideas, vision and concept forward; this type relies on excitement, momentum and potential to blow past expectations. Streamlining delivery is top priority. In this model, a strong personality is the driving force. This person owns the brand or creative content. Relying on a charismatic front-person means other strong players need come around him or her to shepherd the herd that follows; egos need to be healthy; a team of skilled professionals is necessary to reach the large number of people key to this organization’s success. While joiners are free to come and go (it’s all about respect for the individual), this size organizational mindset knows the power of the people—and the stage.
Most organizations do not spell out their DNA—their built-in, hard-wired mindsets. The cultural expectations are often discovered haphazardly, people figure it out on their own (often, not without cost). Knowing your own fit, positions you to wed your strengths and interests, hopes and potential to the organization most likely to benefit in return.
HEARTBEAT: Personal, Managerial or Professional?
Heartbeats are not hard to hear; you need only get near enough to a person to get a sense of their health and well-being; their excitement level and their energy reserves. It’s the same within an organization. Different sizes—different DNA’s—emit distinctive, discernible heartbeats. For instance, the heartbeat of a small, relationally-minded organization is personal. For them, health means people feel close, even loved. The heartbeat of a medium, more managerial one is service-oriented. Health means members feel served or appreciated for serving. The heartbeat of a large, dynamic one is professional. Health means joiners feel empowered or inspired.
FOR THOSE WHO PREFER SMALL CLOSE-KNIT ORGANIZATIONAL SETTINGS, the worst thing is not to feel heard. If each one isn’t acknowledged as a human being (vs. a human ‘resource’), the group will start to sag. These folks feel fine covering one or two items on a 12-item agenda. Checking in with people around the table is part of the process; essential to a smooth operation, in fact. Paperwork takes a backseat to a good conversation. People who prefer small group work thrive in collaborative, guild-like settings with hands-on, experienced mentorship an inherent part of any process.
Their motto: If we’re in touch, we’re on track.
THIS IS NOT THE SAME FOR SOMEONE WITH A MEDIUM, MANAGERIAL ORGANIZATIONAL HEARTBEAT. Their worst thing is not to be appreciated for their efforts. They are performance-based. Talk is a means to an end. Success is the number of programs on offer, not members’ sense of personal well-being. This may sound cold-hearted, but it’s not. People who align with this type of organization are working to make a difference for the benefit of (many) others. They assume if people are actively contributing to projects that make the world a better place, then this enhances (and, in fact, signals) their own well-being.
Their motto: If you’re on board, you’ll be blessed.
THE HEARTBEAT OF A LARGE, RISK-TAKING ORGANIZATION is professional. For them, it’s not about boosting morale or obtaining concrete objectives. It’s about the intrinsic possibility of this moment. The worst thing for them is wasted effort that dilutes (and therefore slows down) the focus on reaching the masses with the big picture goal. This organization is dedicated to winning; crossing a new finish line every day, maximizing results and multiplying their reach—their trajectory is not contained within a three or five-year plan; it’s more like fireworks going off in brilliant, but largely untraceable patterns. It’s as if they’re sitting back and watching it all happen, which to some extent is true. Although this tends to happen when and where behind-the-scenes talent works hard to help ‘the show’ succeed.
Their motto: Let’s do this.
TECHNOLOGY: Social, Organizational tool, or Way of the future?
Technology as indispensable is an assumption that’s easy to make: but not all organizations relate to the use of new or old technology in the same way. Some won’t get through a day without it, while others would like to bring back clocks that wind and maps with bulky folds. How organizations approach, use and cultivate the use of technology depends on their ideal size because size is a mindset, which includes the group’s collective thinking towards digital technology, tools and platforms.
NOT SURPRISINGLY, PEOPLE WHO GRAVITATE TOWARDS SMALL, RELATIONAL ORGANIZATIONS like to keep things low-tech, personal and highly relatable. There’s an understanding that what is not germane to the people in the room must not be important. The main role of tech, for them, is logistical. Social media (SM), as a means of arranging to meet, suits this group perfectly. Anything beyond must really make its case or find its in-house advocate to be considered. If someone in the group is a tech-native, the whole group will benefit from their passion, but they’ll be on guard about letting screens substitute for face-to-face connections. For them, hand-held devices are a poor second for the human touch, voice and presence. Although in today’s media-saturated environment this is a hard standard to hold for any group. Technology is always a means to growth, even for a small organization, but, ideally, this type will resist letting it define them. While technology claims to connect people, this size group is best suited to be the counter-culture antidote to experiences that, at heart, alienate rather than truly bond people seeking to be known, heard and encouraged as unique, multi-dimensional people.
The challenge for those with a preference for small group settings is to stay present as people without becoming outdated and (supposedly) irrelevant to their members. This group is wise to own its strength and be clear on how and why it limits technology, when it chooses to do for its own important reasons.
IT’S DIFFERENT FOR PEOPLE WITHIN A MEDIUM ORGANIZATIONAL ENVIRON. For them technology is a tool to help deliver great programs and run projects effectively. Technology is mainly a means to an end. Ideally, for them, it’s a background player; something that serves their larger purpose. But technology can be tough to hold in check because of the promising nature of the latest and greatest. Yet, this type of organization does best when its people feel their contributions are valued, unique and vital. As a result, this size group is wise to hire specialists to help navigate tech-tempting options: defining needs and right-sizing solutions, etc. Since most people within this size organization are detail-strong, it’s the leadership’s job to ensure any new tools serve the greater purpose.
This type has the most difficultly finding its sweet spot when it comes to technology; the smaller ones naturally hold intrusion or disruption at bay and the larger ones exist to embrace the new and exciting. Only the medium type seeks to modulate, balance and reach that elusive make-everyone-happy middle ground. This is their strength, of course, but it’s also the point of their greatest struggle: technology—take it or leave it? For this group, it depends.
A LARGE, OUTREACH FOCUSED ORGANIZATION ASSUMES TECHNOLOGY AS A PART OF THEIR IDENTITY: this organization would cease to function if not for the power to make new things happen in new ways. High tech is how they communicate, share opportunities, link people in and follow up. This group is agile; it thrives off seizing opportunities and sharing the joy. This means being brave about employing the right technologies. Whether met on the stage, the screen, in-person or online, new technology must deliver and support the message, content or defining idea of the organization. It must make things very, very easy for the end-user. This is not about building good websites and webinars (baseline) but mastering responsive (increasingly intelligent and impressive) new technologies to overlap the vision of the organization’s founders with the aspirations of those who join.
People join big-thinking organizations to be part of something beyond them, something bigger. Joiners don’t want total understanding of what’s ahead. They want to pursue that intangible dream of success; to face the unknown and take courage. Possibility is the bread-and-butter of a wild-frontier type organization. Embracing new technology makes good sense for this type: it has very little to do with risk. This is their business: it’s not about managing programs or meeting people: it’s about making new things happen, now; about becoming bigger.
The challenge here for them is not to get so far ahead of their followers, technically, that people can no longer follow in a meaningful, self-empowering, motivated way.
VISION STATEMENTS: leave them or need them?
In corporate and often not-for-profit culture, vision statements get a lot of press, but on the ground, people relate to them in their own way. Vision looks and feels different within each sized organization. S., M., and L. organizations each have own working definitions for what it means to envision their shared purposes, passion or potential. For some, vision statements are key to future growth. For others, almost irrelevant.
IN A SMALL ORGANIZATION, a shared vision of the future is not the reason people gather. More likely, people are simply birds of a feather. They like to spend time developing common interests. Encouraging one another.
To stay true to small can be difficult: meaningful conversation and individual self-paced accomplishments can be hard to honour in a bigger-is-better/faster-is-smarter world. This is especially true when a group feels the tug towards group-goods like vision statements and otherwise putting their mission into words that help outsider’s easy access.
It’s not bad to have a well-crafted, considered vision. It can be handy to remind people why they’re meeting together; what it is they already hold in common. But a formal Vision Statement is optional for this group. Using this well-known organizational tool to purposely define or direct the organization is far from the group’s core DNA. People with small organizational preferences do not need a statement of any sort to prosper. They need good relationships. For this group, overarching visions (even one developed using inclusive or consensual processes) can quickly overshadow out-loud, personal participation; people risk becoming cogs in a mechanism they can’t control (which would un-define this group); at heart, this type would rather go home than go big. For this reason, even broaching the topic with this organization can be tricky.
This type stands as an excellent reminder that how an organization grows is as important as why it seeks to grow.
IN A MEDIUM ORGANIZATION, vision is necessary in order to define, establish and rein in the scope of the projects they take on. This group attracts people who like to get things done. They are usually highly-competent, deeply committed, sincere people of integrity and energy. It’s easy to promote the people with the “greatest” work ethic, namely those that get the most done. Without vision, this group may see a high rate of burnout or disillusionment, ironically, with results. More effort does not equal more value for your time/money/energy expended. Good project management relies on a strongly adhered to overarching vision.
Vision for this group is necessary but doesn’t necessarily have to be brilliant. Like its smaller counterpart, vision statements can function well if they are descriptive of what the organization does rather than uphold a pure vision statement of where it’s going. This group is not future oriented, although they are about growth: the growth of their membership or loyal clientele as a result of people accessing their programs/products. This is not about changing the world (like it is for a large, entrepreneurial organization); it’s not about developing the craft of individuals (like it is within a small, experimental organization); for this group, it’s about running a variety of programs with excellence.
Vision Statements, while worthwhile as a group-think exercise, do not point the way forward for an organization likely conservative in its reliable, managerial nature (i.e. wary of change for change’s sake). Vision Statements are pragmatic; they simply articulate what the group does and why it does it. People who read it won’t be motivated to do things differently. It may help keep them on track—and help prioritize projects accordingly—but is unlikely to move anyone forward any faster. In this size organization, the call for change must come from the floor: from the members themselves. Leadership will not affect change by changing its Vision Statement, although it is the role of leadership to run programs down the lines of the group’s vision, which is what makes having a Vision Statement so necessary: this group is group-run, meaning an objective, agreed-upon statement works better than any one person trying to run the show (or programs) with her or his vision of a preferred future. In this case, Vision Statements help the organization stay true to its core, which is membership-driven and managerial at heart.
ON THE CONTRARY, VISION IS VITAL TO THE FUTURE OF A LARGE, DYNAMICALLY RESPONSIVE ORGANIZATION. The vision is the defining statement representing the driving idea, message or content of the founding person(s) at the top. This is the rally cry. The entry point for joiners. The litmus test of adopting new technologies or taking on new ventures. If a small organization exists to promote its gathering times and medium organizations to serve their members; a large one lives to serve its vision. For this group, it’s about going somewhere bigger and better. The role of the large organization is to lead: to show the way. They do this by communicating and living up to the vision (which may or may not materialize as a traditional Vision Statement). This group values their status as being and attracting originals. Purists. Idealists. Outspoken speakers and preachers of a better tomorrow, today.
People drawn to this crowed have real freedom to come and go, guilt-free, because they are there based on their alignment with and excitement for the vision, which is an intangible piece of flotsam in many ways, organizationally speaking. Their commitment may be real, but it only goes as deep as their alignment (in the moment) with the organization’s well-promoted vision. Super-size organizations understand it’s the intangible that inspires people. Concrete, realistic, measurable objectives may result in a lot of good work done, but such goals, however smart, don’t change the world.
Where vision means little to a small organization and is necessary to a medium-size organization, it’s everything to a large one. Vision is the tip of the arrow leading them forward. They do not seek to define or describe their vision, as much as they seek to follow its ever-evolving self into the unpredictable, but always exciting future! For this group, vision literally has the power to move them forward.
These are the major defining traits of the three sizes of organizations: 1) their purpose for meeting (their DNA); 2) their heart for keeping things personal, or maintaining and managing a project-driven environment, or reaching for the sky with team of talented pros at the top; 3) their use of new technology as a social gathering or project-management tool vs. a way of doing business; and 4) the importance they attach to vision and defining their future, compared to describing their present. By comparing these traits (there are others, but that would lead us to a larger discussion…) of each size organization, you should be able to find your organizational fit within one of the three sizes—small and relational, medium and managerial, or large and dynamic. Ideally, this discussion will help you dig in deeper with your current commitments; or help you move on to the type of organization that would be more mutually beneficial and fulfilling. This may be urgent for you, or it may be good-to-know on a rainy day. Either way, I wish you nothing but the best in your organizational endeavours and pursuits.
Please be in touch if you’d like to talk more about finding Your Organizational Fit. firstname.lastname@example.org