“Think global, act local”: there are many such catch phrases in the business world as it pertains to organizational models. The reason these catch phrases are so popular is that they hold different meanings for different people and therefore sound true for everyone.

One of the key points to understand in business organizations, or in any group of humans for that matter, is that there is no absolute truth. There is no absolute reality. The “real” world, the one we live in, work in, communicate in is different and for each one us. There isn’t the “World”, there are the “Worlds”.

Power schemes, rules and regulations, projects structures, cooperation… all the complexities of human interactions give rise to numerous worlds and worldviews that collide and interact on many levels. Getting all the levels to work together, efficiently and harmoniously is the challenge we are facing today.

 In the phrase “Think global, act local” there is a notion of scale.

1. World View

 Scale is one way to etch various worldviews.

Animations from Imax Cosmic Voyage - music from "The Matrix" movie-trilogy (and "Awake" by Jake Kaufman) 

This video is an interesting representation of the world, with changing viewpoints depending on the scale of observation spanning from the subatomic to the cosmic level.

The vast differences in scales between a sub-atomic particle and galactic systems means that whatever we see at one level is invisible at another level.

From a day-to-day decision-making human point of view, we can consider that if something is out conscious perimeter, we are not going to do anything about it. If we do nothing about it does it mean that nothing gets done? No, because we have set up an organization to take care of it. Each layer of the organization has its own conscious parameter.

Thus, the preoccupations of a manager at the group management level, and the preoccupations of a person a filling out a specific aspect of a particular customer order are is two different worlds. Literally.

It is not clear that at any one given moment, one level knows or cares about what is going on at the other level. This is even truer today with planet-wide organizations.

2. Local Action

A good organization must address open and clearly these to worlds in a way that each knows has its own autonomy to solve the problems they are faced with yet in doing so, not hindering each other. Each level must fully trust that it is doing what it should.

This is best understood by thinking about the way the body human works. In the healthy human body, our conscious mind doesn’t worry about dealing with microbes and viruses. This is left to our immune system, with its antibodies and defense mechanisms. In a healthy body, we aren’t bothered because the immune system knows what it has to do, has the resources to do it, and as the autonomy to deal with all threats with asking any permission. The fact that the body is healthy is report enough. If we wish, we can measure temperature, blood pressure or any other vital signs, but our feeling healthy is an instant report we get every second and which contains enough information for us to keep about thinking about other things (going about our daily life).

If we decide to change something, for example our diet, or our home environment by moving to a different country, the immune system immediately gets to work to adapt its tools (antibodies) to the new conditions and carries out its mission. It auto-adapts without management intervention. If things get a bit rough after a meal, a signal is sent out: we feel sick. At this point, the upper functions of the brain kick in to provide the resources necessary to cure the temporary problem. Then the system resumes its previous silent running, with stronger antibodies ready for a renewed similar meal.

3. Integration

This is the level of autonomy we should seek in organization. With trust, we only need appropriate minimal reporting to let the whole company know it is on track. Any problem that can’t be treated is detected at the appropriate management level, again using minimal investigation tools, which include a strong bi-lateral communication network and feedback loops, a solution is implemented. Finally the system resumes its business, as usual.

One such organization system is Brian Robertson’s Holacracy. It is a system that resolves around autonomous circles performing roles. They are governed by rules laid out by a constitution and operate according to processes designed the level concerned by each role.

Brian Robertson presents a pragmatic approach to this new paradigm of business organization where people are entrusted to provide sustainable value in an organization with clarity of purpose, These types of organizations can clearly think globally and act locally.