The Sea-Going Canoe — Fast, Flexible and Sustainable

Based on Change-ABLE Organization: Management Practices for Speed and Flexibility by John G. Mathers and William Daniels

A few organizations, especially those that must be fast and flexible, have adopted this model for their organization.  In the Sea-Going Canoe, everyone is facing forward.  Everyone knows where the boat is going.  Everyone recognizes their INTERdependent with the rest of the crew fi they want to achieve their goals.  Leaders are resources to the team rather than control points.

The Sea-Going Canoe has long been an option as a hybrid form of organizational culture and is often chronicled in organizational literature.  Popularized and thoroughly misrepresented as “participative management”, it became a human relations movement, envisioning an authority-free community in which people sought authenticity and spontaneity in their relationships. The intended result was for the organization to become an instrument of self-actualization for its members.

It was assumed that such respect for the uniqueness of individuals would lead to job satisfaction, better morale and eventually, high levels of productivity. Though many academics and businesspeople proved that no such romantic illusion had ever worked for more than a year or two, the vision persists today. Our high performance organization — the Sea-Going Canoe — is not a friend of this fantasy.

The Sea-Going Canoe is a highly disciplined, systematically deliberate organization. It makes better use of its human resources than the traditional autocratic model (we call that the Galley), respecting and utilizing everyone’s mind in the process of its governance.  It thrives as much on what it ignores about people as by what it seeks to include.

The high performance organization holds everyone accountable to its over-all purpose. It does not practice diversity for its own sake; diversity is employed to ensure the broadest possible understanding of the environment and to maximize the organization’s opportunities. The high performance organization has a system of organizational performance feedback enriched with information and analytic alternatives. These elements make it smarter and faster than other cultures.

To learn more about high performance teams and the Sea-Going Canoe model for teams and organizations, go to our DOWNLOADS page.

Based on Change-ABLE Organization: Management Practices for Speed and Flexibility by John G. Mathers and William Daniels


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