REWILDING THE ORGANIZATION: AN EXPLORATION OF THE ECOSYSTEM APPROACH APPLIED TO HUMAN INSTITUTIONS
Cameron, Richard John
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From the dawn of humanity, humans have been watching and learning from nature. We are increasingly turning to nature for inspiration, especially in the sciences and engineering where we regularly practice biomimicry and develop new materials and processes. However, we use our own human constructs for the way we structure and operate our organizations. This has resulted in organizations which typically suffer from dysfunction and fail when presented with disruptive events. Natural ecosystems offer a model that has worked for millennia in terms of high functioning and resiliency to disruptions. Human attempts to manage natural environments have historically used command-and-control approaches that have not worked well. However, the ecosystem approach now being utilized for enhancing natural environments is showing promising results. Complexity science is developing a means of incorporating some aspects that make ecosystems work so well, but implementing complexity science into our organizations has proven challenging. This paper explores the potential utilization of the ecosystem approach applied to human organizations in terms of structure and processes including a clear sense of purpose; adaptability; individual freedom; interconnectedness; diversity; competition and cooperation; boundaries, corridors, and ecotones; keystone species; feedback loops; ecological time; succession and phases; and embracing messiness and uncertainty. Such an ecosystem approach is expected to lead to rewilding the organization to make it higher functioning and increasing the resilience. A case study is included which explores the ecosystem approach applied to engineering research project teams at a federal research laboratory.