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Management Systems From Feudal to Chaordic

From: LEAVEN, Vol. 37 No. 3, June-July 2001, pp. 62-63.
Beth Moscov
Boulder Creek, California, USA

Companies today function with a management system that arose out of feudal society. In those days, the landowners, who were also the aristocracy, managed their estates using peasants to work their land. There was a hierarchy: field hands could not go into the house, downstairs help couldn't go upstairs, housemaids could only have limited contact with those who slept in the rooms they cleaned, and this was all ruled by the buder who answered directly to the head of the household.

Today's typical business is governed by a director or board of directors who makes policy decisions. These decisions are given to an executive director for implementation. What happens in a typical business, including La Leche League, is information is passed along the chain of command. Information is passed back the same way, with each worker giving feedback to his/her boss or contact person all the way back up to the Board of Directors. Information tends to be given only to those who need to know, and thus those in authority regulate the flow of information. This is a typical hierarchical organization.

In an article published in the February/March 2000 issue of Inner Edge magazine, Harland Cleveland discusses the last century of management and leadership, and the move away from a typical hierarchical structure. The beginning of the information age and the end of the industrial age has had a major influence on this shift. Thus, the computer, and now the Internet, has changed our way of seeing how business can be done. In fact, Cleveland writes, "More and more openness is a technological imperative of the information society."

In the last century, physics has changed dramatically due to some of the work Einstein started. Scientists from the field of quantum mechanics are discussing a theory called "complexity theory." This developed when scientists studying light realized that if they looked at light one way it appeared to be a wave, but from another perspective it appeared to function as particles. The researchers realized that the simple act of studying the light created effects upon the light. To study and understand this further, the field of quantum mechanics and chaos theory, also called complexity theory, began.

The essence of complexity theory is that systems are not static. They react to outside influences by changing. Thus, as a human, if it is cold our body adjusts by shivering - an action that creates heat. This can be applied to human behavior as well. When our baby is hungry, she cries. That cry affects us and we react by feeding her. She settles down. We settle down. This can be viewed as two complex systems (the baby and mother) affecting each other. It can also be viewed as one complex system - the mother baby dyad and how it reacts within itself to grow and change in response to internal and external changes (in this case the baby's hunger).

Management theory has seized this idea in recent years. There are a number of schools of thought attempting to apply this to working with people in the business world. One is called Leaming Systems. Another is Dee Hock's Chaordic Organization. The difference is that many of these theories deal with the individuals within the organization; the chaordic process recommends changing the basic organizational structure so that it can be more fluid, more adaptable, and better able to grow.

Dee Hock, founder of VISA and the Chaordic Alliance, provides the definition of chaord in his book, The Chaordic Organization (available from the Chaordic Alliance for $6.95).


1. Any self-organizing, self-goveming, adaptive, nonlinear, complex organism, organization, community, or system, whether physical, biological, or social, the behavior of which harmoniously blends characteristics of both chaos and order.

2. An entity whose behavior exhibits observable patterns and probabilities not governed or explained by the rules that govern or explain its constituent parts.

He continues to define chaordic:

1. The behavior of any self-governing organism, organization, or system which harmoniously blends the characteristics of order and chaos.

2. Patterned in a way dominated by neither chaos nor order.

3. Characteristic of the fundamental organizing principles of evolution and nature.

Later in the same book he states that the chaordic process can begin with the question: "If anything imaginable were possible, if there are no constraints whatsoever, what would be the nature of an in LLL, what ideal organization to ... ?" In the case of La Leche League we could end that sentence with "help mothers breastfeed their babies." But then again, even that might need some thought. Some Leaders might argue that an equally valid purpose is to help create a breastfeeding friendly world culture. Others might say that our role is to help mothers to find the uniquely La Leche League style of parenting and not simply breastfeed. One exercise that might be useful when considering our individual purpose for being part of La Leche League is to ask why you are a Leader. Then when an answer comes clearly to mind, ask yourself, "Why is this important?" Continue to ask this last question three, five, or ten times - until you feel that you understand the underlying reasons why you are a La Leche League Leader.

Harland Cleveland talks about the opposite of a centralized organization (a hierarchical organization with a central control or boss). He says that the opposite is not decentralized with leadership on the outskirts, but an uncentralized leadership in which communication flows from point to point, groups form for one purpose, disband, then another group forms somewhere else around some other purpose. You can envision this as the difference between a pyramid and a spider's web. The extreme example of the centralized government is the military. A decentralized organization is one that keeps dividing and subdividing into different areas and departments that are still linked by one central leadership. This sounds very much like what La Leche League has at the moment. A good example of the uncentralized system is the Internet with no one having direct control and many points of information in which individuals come together for various purposes and then disband when the purpose is complete or the individuals have met their needs.

The LLLI Board of Directors, the Division Directors, the Director of Leader Accreditation, and the Directors of Departments working at the LLLI office as well as many others, have committed the organization to an organization-wide self exploration as we step onto the path of what La Leche League may become. For the chaordic process to really take hold, to really work, to really grow, each of us needs to consider how we are part of this. What voice do we want to have in where La Leche League goes in the future? This can only happen if Leaders take an active role. We can each have the opportunity to decide for ourselves how we wish to be affected and then make that happen! In an uncentmlized organization, each of us can be in communication with others all over the world, creating a web or net of support for each other, and making changes that will help us better to meet the needs of mothers and babies.

How You Can Learn More about Chaordic Ideas and Self-Organization

Web Sites and Email Discussion Groups

An email discussion group of LLL Leaders (more than 100) which is open to any interested Leader. To subscribe, go to and click the "JOIN" button. All past messages are available online to members.

The Chaordic Alliance (TCA)

The TCA Web site includes a variety of articles and other information about The Chaordic Alliance and chaordic process,

LLLI Chaordic Initiative Teams

A section of the LLLI Web site that indexes information and materials La Leche League's chaordic teams.

Books and Pamphlets/Articles

The Birth of the Chaordic Age, by Dee Hock, Berrett-Koehler, San Francisco, 1999.

Appreciative Inquiry, David Cooperrider and Diana Whitney (pamphlet), published by Berrett-Kochler Communications, Inc. San Francisco, USA, 1999.

The Chaordic Organization by Dee Hock (pamphlet), published by Berrett-Koehler Communications, Inc. San Francisco, CA USA, 1999.

All books available through your local bookstore or from Berrett-Koehler Communications or 800-929-2929.

Chaordic Explorations

During the first meeting (April 23-26, 2001) the Drafting Team (DT) began to explore challenging questions related to La Leche League's purpose and principles. At this point, we are searching for essence and deep meaning, rather than answers tightly framed by specific words. Please join us in this exploration! We encourage and expect responses to these questions to be sent to the Review Network at any tune for incorporation in the work that the DT is doing. Feedback from the mothers that you are in contact with would be welcome also. Feel free to answer only the questions in which you have interest.

  1. What is the heart of LLL (words, phrases, ideas)?
  2. Does LLL exist to serve Babies? Mothers? Leaders? Parents? Families? How and why?
  3. Do you really believe that every mother can know what is best for her baby? How does this belief affect your view of LLL?
  4. What are the ideas at the core of mothering through breastfeeding that could live at the center of LLL (as an organization)?
  5. How can LLL have a role in changing the world?
  6. When looking at your work in LLL, what meaning do the words respect, tolerance, and flexibility have for you?
  7. What does support mean to you?
  8. What could LLL support look community?
  9. How can/does LLL support: Mothers Babies? Leaders? Health professionals? Fathers? Families? Others (please name)?
  10. How could a helping organization such as LLL resolve conflict?
  11. Is it every mother's right to have information and support about breastfeeding her baby? Why or why not?
  12. Is it a baby's birthright to be breastfed? Why or why not?

Responses may be sent to Beth Moscov, P.O.Box 1549, Boulder Creek, CA USA 95006, bethmoscov at (email) or can be directed to the Chaordic Initiative Network by going to

[This article has been edited for clarity and differs slightly from the original publication.]

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