Organization Nodes Are Whole/Parts, “Holons”
Hierarchy is a poor term for the fundamental whole-part organizing principle because it tends to be interpreted in the higher-is-better ranking sense of hierarchy, People also tend to hate hierarchies and/or consider them irrelevant. And in truth, most social hierarchies are ranking hierarchies pegged to elites. However, human organizations cannot be understood without the principle of whole/parts. So we often refer to something that is a whole/part as a "holon," and a sequence of nested holons as a "holonarchy." Unless noted otherwise, our use of the word hierarchy is strictly in the sense of a holonarchy.
Arthur Koestler (The Ghost in the Machine, 1969) coined the term “holon” (from “holos,” Greek for whole and “on” (as in electron, for part) to represent an entity that is simultaneously a whole composed of parts and embedded in a larger whole—like a person, organization, government, or planet. Stamps studied this general pattern of holons in his PhD thesis, published as Holonomy: A Human Systems Theory (1980) .
Koestler presents “two ways of diagramming a [holonarchy] of 4 levels with a ‘span’ of 3 on each level; (a) the tree, (b) the Chinese box, derived from a cross-section through level 4 of the tree.”
Hierarchy Tree
The conventional top-down diagram of a containment hierarchy-holonarchy is only one possible orientation for visualizing organization. From a root, a hierarchy tree can branch up, down, right, left, or be arrayed around a root center. The centered, radial view, is our usual display choice for OrgScope, since it offers the most information for surface area.
Holonarchies are level structures of mutually-exclusive entities--like people, places, and organizations. These classification systems reflect infrastructures of complex networks of nodes that are connected by multiple links and types of links. They are the starting point for mapping human network complexity, not the ending point.
We have written extensively about hierarchy and networks over the past three decades, most recently in Virtual Teams. See Chapter 12, Theory: A Systems Science of Virtual Teams (and Networks). An early version of our network model appeared in The Networking Book. See Chapter 9, A Network Model.