Imagine an organisation as a kind of pine tree of triangles that are stacked upon each other, with each pyramid’s top based at the bottom of the pyramid above it.
The idea is that all leaders (the top of the triangle) are also part of the bottom (team) of a pyramid above them. And that all leaders have team members that are leaders of their own team (the underlying pyramids).
You could visualise that stack of interlocking teams as a pictured below.
Although a simplified representation of in many cases more complex organisations and although in reality this hierarchy is often augmented with all kinds of cross functional and networked elements, it helps to show some paradoxes in nearly all organisations.
The paradox of loyalty. By the overlap in triangles there always is an ambiguity in the primary pyramid of loyalty. To the team you lead or the team you are part of, although not in a leading capacity. Only the top and the bottom are free of this paradox.
The paradox of maturity. The maturity of a team evolves over time. And this influences the view of its leader on the position he or she has in the stack. A manager that needs to focus on its own team has little time to take part in the above team. To the frustration that above team’s manager. A manager that has a well-functioning team might want to expand his of her scope and more actively participate in the team above. These stages of maturity are seldom in synch.
The paradox of uniformity. In management there is a tendency to see all elements below (and above) as similar and to act accordingly. In reality there is a variety in size, function, leadership style, and these variations add to the other two paradoxes. The pine tree picture that omits that diversity, proofs this point.
Managers and employees can close their eyes for these paradoxes that interfere with standardisation and predictability and act upon them as annoyances.
Embracing these paradoxes and incorporating them in the actual practices and interactions, on the other hand, can provide a more realistic and rewarding balance between in the individual and the group at every level of the organisation and add to the overall beauty of an organisation.