Dips in structured environments

Structured vs. unstructured environments

I have been recently wondering about the differences between working in structured environments (i.e. working “for someone else”, within an organization) and working on one’s own. I call the first type a “structured environment”, because at a typical workplace the employee is asked to conform to a set of rules –– openly or not. Examples?

  • Set working hours or ranges
  • Set working days or ranges
  • Fixed relations with limited exit barriers
    (you have to resolve conflicts or change your job)
  • Assumed superior-inferior relationships
  • Set of duties

One could say that the above-mentioned examples are a set of boundaries or an imposed structure. Working on one’s own does not free a person from relations nor does it not [entirely] free from working hours (for example). The difference is, however, that one has more freedom to choose without having to exit the situation altogether.


To give you another example — I remember a person from my family (owner of a small business) saying something like: “I have the right to say ‘no’ to a client.” It struck me when I realized that “no” was very often not an option in intra-organization environments. “No” related to one’s duties, that is, “no” as an internal supplier. And as long as a person didn’t want to leave a company once and for all. Relations in structured environments are given and practically speaking — they cannot be broken. In a structured environment there’s very little freedom to say “no, I won’t do it,” “no, I will not work with that person.” This has moved to such extremities, that we base one’s value as a corporate employee on his/hers “peacefulness” or better — “ability to work/coexist with everyone.”

The Energy Cycle

1) Freedom = truth.
If 1) is true then…
2) Imposed rules = lack of freedom = manipulating / lying.

I know, I am seriously simplifying things here. But where am I heading? It’s been said that maintaining a false image, pretending someone else, manipulating or lying require significant energy levels. To put it plainly — they tire us. When forced to act in a structured environment the best we can often do is compromise. Very often, however, the bigger the organization, and the longer we work (more relations), the more “flexible” we have to become. And there is a price we pay.

I’ve observed a cycle which occurs in many (most? all?) corporate lives — a person starts his or her work in a new setting. Full of energy, open and friendly, he or she starts taking on new projects, responsibilities, building relationships. In a way, he or she starts to build open loops.

Open Loop

 Any open commitment, plan, or unfinished business that exists in your life. It is typical today for a busy person to have many hundreds or even thousands of open loops bouncing around throughout their conscious and unconscious thought processes, all vying for attention. Most of the stress people experience (conscious or otherwise) tends to come from inappropriately managed open loops (commitments) they make or accept.”

Source: http://gtdportal.pbworks.com/GTDGlossary

After some time — depending on the person — the smile is no longer there, the attitude is no longer so open. It takes another year or so… A change is desperately needed. This change can happen internally (switching departments, positions) or externally (quitting). That’s when the cycle starts all over again…

What can be done?

Consciousness is the starting point for any improvement… 🙂

“Common sense starts with seeing things as they are.”

Source: @tim_hurson

I believe that what can significantly improve an employee’s live is… change. If one cannot risk the switch from a structured to an unstructured environment, if one hasn’t got that luxury, it would be better to break the standard cycle, to promise a change (e.g. soon after the end of a project’s phase, project’s end).

I call it “cleaning a page” or “emptying the cup.” To make someone full with experience and prevent from overflowing, one has to prepare the ground for it.

In a structured environment — that’s when a leader comes in…