The hierarchical paradigm meets the collaborative operating system

After years of work, study and research, my developed inherent quality management principles (noted here) among other advocated a need to: promote professionalism and transparency, and increasingly make quality a mindset, while removing fear and barriers to innovation and collaboration. It is that context that had me want to explore an approach that had come to my attention. Upon contacting colleague, Sheila M. Kelly, an expert on the approach, she graciously shared the following:

One of my clients works as many as 80 hours a week during peak periods. She goes above and beyond the parameters of her job description. She makes her boss look good. In spades. So good that the boss gets a bonus. My client hardly gets so much as a “thank you.” She remains impossibly positive and upbeat in the face of such glaring inequities, but she is also frustrated.


It is but one of many stories I hear about the inequities of the workplace. Is it any wonder that workplace disengagement is at epidemic proportions? It is heartbreaking but indisputable: Workplace disengagement is a world-wide phenomenon, with Harvard, for example, reporting up to 80 per cent employee disengagement as a result of rude and uncivil behavior. There are countless reasons cited for the causes of disengagement and countless solutions offered. As someone who used to sit outside my own workplace filled with dread, I can only say, “I understand. Completely.”


One aspect of disengagement that is rarely addressed is the system itself; specifically, the hierarchical system which is so deeply entrenched in our collective psyche that it has become a paradigm. A paradigm, by its very nature, is a set of assumptions, concepts, values and practices that constitute a way of viewing reality for the community that shares them. Because a paradigm is largely unconscious, it remains unexamined and unquestioned.


The hierarchical paradigm is built around competition, winners and losers, and scarcity. And, yes, leaders positioned at the top. Dr. David Hoffman, University of North Carolina, says that “Everyone agrees that hierarchy is dead; it’s just that we don’t have anything to replace it with.”


Until now.


Rachel Conerly has developed The Collaborative Operating System (COS), a highly-effective and scalable alternative to the current paradigm known as hierarchy. Unlike hierarchy, a useful structure (which our world attempts to use implicitly as a system), the COS is a true system. It can be used as a management system, or to do any of the things for which we currently use hierarchy – which of course is nearly everything. There are 5 steps to COS:


  1. Identify the problem;
  2. Involve all relevant stakeholders;
  3. Design and facilitate collaborative meetings;
  4. Form the collaborative team;
  5. Create a collaborative plan.


Because it’s such a powerful system, a little goes a long way; small, subtle changes have a powerful impact. Implementation begins without fanfare and often with only one or two individuals anywhere in the organization. Because it is a way of working that really works, it spreads on its own merit.

Sheila believes that anyone who is in charge of a team, anywhere in the workplace, can begin to substitute these principles for the current hierarchical status quo. She says it is especially powerful for those in leadership positions who are uncomfortable with the “command and control” style of management. She says a collaborative leader is one who listens first and involves all relevant stakeholders — at all levels of the organization — in the decision-making process; and that a collaborative leader is one who understands that “Together we all lead.”

Sheila is The Disengagement Guru. As a professional coach, certified by the prestigious Coaches Training Institute, Sheila has spent over a decade helping clients and groups who are longing for personal, professional and cultural transformation. She understands that transformation is possible only when there is awareness of the blocks that are keeping us stuck.

Her website is:

My thanks to Sheila for helping me explore and share awareness of this new approach with you.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada
Ron Richard
Ron Richard
Ron Richard, Quality, Information Technology and Enterprise Risk Management specialist, has earned professional designations from multiple countries, held positions at most any level, and acquired more than 30 years of relevant experience including related work done at the College of the North Atlantic. Ron is author of Inherent Quality Simplicity and the Inside Internal Control newsletter Modern Quality Management series.

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