Academic journal article Journal of Community Positive Practices

Overcoming Drawbacks of Hierarchy: Examples from Kibbutz Communities1

Academic journal article Journal of Community Positive Practices

Overcoming Drawbacks of Hierarchy: Examples from Kibbutz Communities1

Article excerpt

Abstract. While hierarchical structures have many advantages for the effective running of organizations, they also pose major drawbacks both for organizations and for individuals lower in a hierarchy. Research in kibbutz industry and in its social organizations shows that kibbutzim are not much different from other organizations because within kibbutzim hierarchical structures are common, differentials in power and control are correlated with hierarchical position, differential rewards are correlated with position, and health symptoms and indicators for well being are correlated with hierarchical position. Yet kibbutzim managed to solve the paradox of having organizations that are hierarchically structured and show all the features of hierarchical organizations yet keep up with the principles of equality and democracy. I explain and describe seven different counterbalancing mechanisms employed by kibbutzim to alleviate the drawbacks of hierarchy and yet preserve its advantages. Recently, many kibbutzim went through major structural transformations, and most mechanisms to counterbalance the ill effects of hierarchy were among the "victims" of these structural changes. Results of research show both in the economic sphere and in the social sphere how giving up on the counterbalancing mechanisms brings about deterioration in positive outcomes. The last part of the paper discusses reasons for the deterioration in effectiveness and then discusses possible generalization from kibbutz research to other societies.

Key words: Kibbutz; hierarchy; ill-effects of hierarchy; managerial rotation; direct democracy

1. Introduction

Any observer of social organizations must come to a conclusion that one of these organizations' common characteristics is a hierarchically structured in a pyramidal mode coupled with strong inequality among members. The pyramidal shape is expressed so that the higher up the ranking in a hierarchy, the fewer the individuals that occupy the ranking. Inequality is a major aspect of hierarchical structures. There exists consistent differentiation between leaders/managers (at the top of the ladder) and the lead/members at large (down the ladder) along many resource dimensions: authority, rewards, level of control, self development, and satisfaction of needs. In addition, hierarchy also differentiates among members in levels of health and wellbeing. The differentiation on all these dimensions is such that the higher up a person is on the hierarchical steps, the more he or she possesses any of the resources and the healthier she or he is. The fact that hierarchical structure is so common in so many organizations leads to a question whether these structures would be found in societies that put strong emphasis on equality among their members, and if so, how do such societies deal with the inequalities of hierarchy?

In this paper I first expand a bit on the various aspects of hierarchy and the research performed on the matter. Then I take the Israeli kibbutz as an example of a society with very strong emphasis on the value of equality among its members. I show that kibbutz communities practice hierarchically structured organizations but at the same time they employ several mechanisms that overcome the drawbacks or ill effects of hierarchy. Consequently, they are able to use the advantages of a hierarchically structured organization without sacrificing principles of equality. I cite research that shows how keeping up with the mechanisms to overcome drawback of hierarchy help an organization to function better and also brings about improved well being, health and satisfaction of life to individuals at the lower rungs of hierarchy. Later the paper explains how many kibbutzim went through major structural transformations. One central effect of these transformations was the giving up on the mechanisms that overcome drawbacks of hierarchy. The result of these transformations was very negative for the functioning of kibbutz communities. …

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