Humans love a hierarchy

But they kept quiet because on the way they had argued about who was the greatest. —Mark 9:34

One of the first things A mentioned, when she went to work in the kitchen she’s been crushing on, was that the chef—that is, the head of the kitchen—told her that there were no titles in their kitchen. In her classroom kitchen, they call their instructor “Chef,” in the traditional way… as in, “Yes, Chef!” In preparing students for professional kitchens, part of the learning is learning the kitchen hierarchy. But here there was no hierarchy. Right? “He’s just Kevin, Mom.”

Hm.

I worked for a handful of years in an employee-owned, non-hierarchical business. They point-blank told me the latter when I started working there. As an organizational-development hobbyist, I was extremely skeptical, and here’s why:

as the lone systems administrator, responsible for computers that cost $10-20K each plus software contracts and and, it struck me as extremely unlikely that turning to whomever was standing next to me and saying, “I think I’ll buy that server. What do you think?” would be sufficient background work for the purchase. Nor would distracting the bill-clients-by-the-hour-increment consultants by putting the decision to an email discussion. (My colleagues did so enjoy a good discussion!)

Non-hierarchical is all well and good when the pool of persons are consultants and client-finders. But when money has to be paid instead of made, there will be a hierarchy. Implicit, perhaps. But still there. It took me some digging and some missteps, but I eventually mapped it all out, including the layers of signature authority. (In large firms, this tends to be written down: worker-bee can authorize expenditures up to, say, $1000; bee-boss can ‘sign for’ $10,000; bee-boss and bee-boss’-boss for the next increment, etc. Naturally, Flat-Firm didn’t have anything like that written…but believe me, it was there in practice.)

A few weeks ago, while hanging out with A, I looped back around to not-Chef Kevin. So, how does that turn out to function? “Oh, sure, Kevin’s the chef: when I get to work, I find him first and say, ‘I’m here; what do you want me to do?’ And he says, ‘Go find Eliezar,’ because Eli’s the sous-chef. And Eli tells me what I’m doing first. But what Kevin really means, Mom, is that we’re all doing the work together. There are no jobs that are more important, or less important. All the jobs need to be done.”

 

When my daily devotional included that stretch of Mark, I smiled. There we go again. Somehow, we humans crave not only packs, but ordered packs. Someone gets to be Alpha, someone gets to be Beta, and we inch through the alphabet until we’re all standing in the line we made. And, y’know what? That line works. In A’s crush-kitchen, Kevin has the map for the day ahead, from what cold ingredients are in the walk-in to what key customers have reserved spots at what times. Eli is briefed on the day’s map, and together they share parts of the map with those that need it. A, for example, gets a “first tackle…” with an occasional, “…and after that…” because her beginner’s role is to do whatever job that next needs to be done. Part of why we crave a hierarchy is that it helps us figure out the proper next thing for us to do. So that all is well done.

Surrounding that embarrassing moment in disciple history, Jesus speaks of doing the Kingdom of heaven jobs that still need to be done. He will die, and be raised from the dead. The earth-bound work that will remain will require a humble mind and a sense of open-hearted welcome. And whoops! Instead of requiring an ordered group, the disciples’ work turns out to be more like a pool of consultants’—everyone has needed skills, everyone has studied the map (right?), and now it’s all hands on deck.

Lord, I’m here. What do you want me to do?

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