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Small Business Digest


Integral Approach To Small Business Management Adds Profits, Raises Employee Morale

Some managers make decisions in the dark all the time, based on just a fragment of the entire picture.

Mats Eriksson, co-founder of Integ Partner believes it is no longer possible to regard a company as a piece of machinery.

He argues corporate leadership and communications are better served by looking at the organization as an integrated organism and must be dealt with and communicated to in a much different way.

Eriksson says the Command and Control paradigm of management, with its navigation system based on historical financial data, is totally outdated. He postulates that management techniques are sold, bought, learned and applied before everyone has first agreed on a realistic understanding of a company.

In other words, before anyone has turned on the lights.

This traditional paradigm was based on a misunderstanding of what a company really is.—an integral organization.

He likens this to going into a darkened room without a light.

Eriksson thinks added light can be produced by starting with the question: What is a company – really?

Integral Analysis

Philosopher and author Ken Wilber is probably the world’s leading spokesperson for a more Integral approach. Wilber maintains that any field of study or situation that needs to be managed can only be dealt with effectively via an All Quadrants All Levels (AQAL) approach.

The All Quadrant aspect signifies that managers always have to look at every situation using four very different but complementary perspectives. The individual and the collective perspective, but also the objective and the subjective aspects, always have to be considered if he or she wants to approach any subject in an integral manner.

When it comes to companies, a manager can study the performance and behavior of the individuals that make up the company, but then he or she can also view the company as a collective of individuals.

As a collective they make up a whole complex social system as they interact with each other, as well as with external suppliers, customers and society at large. Both the individual and the collective perspectives are, according to Wilber, essential in order to understand the dynamics of a company.

The second demarcation line runs between the objective and subjective aspects of a company. The objective aspect is what first meets the eye; quite simply that is everything visible and observable,. This includes people, buildings, machines, equipment, products, documents, money and much more.

The final perspective defines and determines the dynamics and functions of a company more than any of the others: the subjective domain, or in plain language, “what goes on in peoples’ heads”.

As soon as a manager begins to take an active interest in the subjective domain he or she finds powerful causes for the success or failure of any company. This includes factors like peoples’ level of maturity as well as the quality of leadership—both are interior or subjective aspects of the individuals that make up the company.

If the manager moves to the collective subjective dimension of the company he or she finds all kinds of cultural issues; shared attitudes or values, or the lack of them and also find a widespread sense of belonging, loyalty and identity with the company, or the lack of it.

What is seen with the light turned on?

A manager doesn’t see machinery that can be run by a command and control management style. Is it possible that a company is a large, complex and volatile living system? Something that cannot be shaped and controlled the way you control a “piece of machinery”? With the lights on in all four quadrants, what becomes clear is that a company really is a living system that follows a few basic laws.

Here is where Eriksson argues these laws can be managed through Integral Management.

What, then, is really meant by Integral? Integral means something is whole, complete and fully functioning—with no missing or broken parts. So a company is well integrated when it is whole, healthy and performing to its full potential. Right?

When leadership, teamwork and local initiatives from co-workers all coincide and pull together in the same general direction, then—and only then—can it speak about a well-integrated company. Building such smoothly operating and highly maneuverable organizations is what Integral Management is all about.

Wilber’s four quadrants can be best illustrated by the figure above. The iceberg shows that the objective aspects of a company are always the most visible and obvious ones. But more importantly, it also symbolizes the simple truth that what most determines the success or failure of any company is what happens “below the water” within the subjective domain—the thoughts, the ideas, strategies and plans, feelings and attitudes, the will to participate and the level of commitment, the degree of creativity as well as the tendencies towards conflict or cooperation—all of this, taken together, has a massive impact on the success and viability of any organization.

Believing in Magic & Miracles

In order to know what’s going on in peoples’ heads, a dialog is necessary. Most managers use management hierarchies to communicate. A one hour PowerPoint presentation should do the trick, and then the message should effortlessly cascade down through the management structure.

That is a perfect example of corporate narcissism. “I am in the center of the universe, the rest of the people are just an extension of my own god-like appearance and they should read my mind in a way that immediately results in strategically focused plans and actions.”

Once the lights are turned on, it’s obvious that a company needs to set up an infrastructure for communication and an engine for driving the strategy (and we are not talking about a new computer system). Anything else would amount to believing in magic and miracles.

An infrastructure for communications takes into account the fact (and it is a fact—if you have the light on in the individual and collective subjective quadrants) that humans need autonomy and belonging but also a meaningful direction for their work. No big surprise—people do want to contribute to the team and a meaningful strategy.

That takes professional dialog. Trying to manage a company with severely limited access to everything that happens between the ears of your co-workers is definitely not a recipe for success! An infrastructure for driving a strategy á la Integral Management is designed to take all these issues into account and removes the mystery from leading a company.

Getting this dialog going is just the first step. The next step, plans and actions to influence how opinions, values and attitudes develop in your company. The ability to mobilize the collective energy as well as the individual intelligence and creativity of every employee towards common goals is a competitive edge that no company can afford to be without.

Mats Eriksson, co-founder of Integ Partner, is a Swedish psychologist and communications expert. He and his wife Karin are the authors of integral business fable The Salamander Club. More information about their book and their work can be found at


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