The 21T Cellular Organisational Structure



Classical hierarchical organisational structure diagrams are useful for creating the illusion of control by formalising silos, power & blame, but little else.

The 21T Cellular Organisational Structure is based on human psychosocial principles & behaviours, and is the perfect base for embedded high organisational performance, career paths, culture & engagement.

Read on to learn more or contact us.


21T Cellular Structure The 21T Cellular Organisational Structure 

Old Structural Models

Traditional hierarchical organisational structures are easy to draw and to understand – the higher you are, the more powerful you are. Hierarchical organisational structures look neat, are easy to understand and create comforting and easily-believable feelings of control and efficiency. For some, this is attractive because it shows subordinates neatly regimented below, while formalising their position of power at the top. The career-minded can track their progress vertically and administrators can enjoy the sight of nicely drawn lines and boxes identifying and neatly separated divisions. 

As an alternative, Beer’s Viable Systems Model (Beer, 1972) has existed for over four decades, but as it appears, and is, far more complex, despite substantial inherent benefits over traditional hierarchical models it has not found common favour. More importantly, like traditional hierarchical organisational charts, it does not recognise that workplaces are not mechanical constructions but highly complex social systems that cannot simply be captured by boxes, lines and procedures. As a consequence, both versions assume that employees go about their work like cogs in a machine, performing simple tasks repetitively within tightly controlled circumstances – a view that became popular in the late nineteenth century but is hardly relevant today.


The Human Brain – A Social Instrument

Over the past few million years, our ancestors evolved, survived and prospered by forming strong social alliances in pursuit of common goals, the main one being survival. They spent time in small groups as families and tribes, even including unrelated outsiders, building trusting relationships through social grooming and pursuing common goals. As language developed these acts become simpler and more efficient, facilitated by a generously proportioned dorsolateral prefrontal cortex  (Dunbar, 1993) enabling the servicing of a greater number of stable relationships where trust, information and tasks could be shared. It is only a very recent construct to attempt to structure workplace relationships as purely professional and ruthlessly efficient, and not one that suits the way our emotionally and socially-oriented brains are designed. 

The very word “company” is not born of a business plan or a chart, but from the latin word “companio”, meaning “one who eats bread with you” – a justification for the business lunch if there ever was one! Anthropologically, organisations (or companies) from our earliest days have always been inherently social, for it was the peaceful and very social act of eating together that allowed a time and place for communicating, bonding socially, establishing safety, creating trust, sharing ideas and stories, formulating plans and establishing social place.

man profile with set of gears on his mind

Humans have a need to belong as a fundamental emotional and behavioural motivation (Baumeister & Leary, 1995). When people feel safe in each other’s company and there is a worthwhile purpose or goal at hand, human interaction provides emotional stimulation associated with the release of the energising hormones epinephrine and norepinephrine, as well as the socially-motivating and massively rewarding chemical dopamine. This highly motivated, focused and intrinsically rewarding condition is optimal for individual and group performance, resulting in an optimistic, creative and cooperative mood that downplays differences and fosters trust and goodwill while purposefully striving for common goals. As experiences are shared, challenges overcome and stories told, interpersonal bonds typically become stronger to the extent that commitment to each other often outweighs commitment to oneself. Over time these pleasurable associations with the group and its activities strengthens neuron paths and improves attitudes towards each other, self-worth, interdependence, cooperation and commitment. It is a self-reinforcing loop that is quite the opposite to that created by unsettled groups, disharmony and distrust, which stimulate the fear-sensitive amygdala and lead to the defensive and safety-seeking behaviours that are so common in adversarial, politicised and unproductive workplaces today.


The 21T Cellular Organisational Structure

As all organisations are collections of humans brought together for common purpose (hopefully with common values and complementary competencies) the only organisational structure that can intrinsically enhance organisational performance must be one that is, first and foremost, planned as a functional, purposeful, social system. But hierarchical organisational models, in representing individuals as anything but social individuals (ie, people), embed division and power, with no regard to the individuals and social systems they exist within and are subject to. As a result, individuals within the power structure find social acceptance with peers through discussing what they have in common – often being the grievances ignored or over-ridden by management. In the end, hierarchical organisational structures help management to divide and rule, but they actively work against productivity, openness, engagement and organisational capability. 

In contrast, the 21T Cellular Organisational Structure is based on neuroscientifically and anthropologically informed social principles that engender trust, respect, support, collaboration and high levels of engagement, productivity and achievement. Workgroup sizes and essential core management skills mean that no individual need feel marginalised, and team leaders are embedded not only structurally but socially, eliminating the adversarial mistrust and miscommunication so prevalent in contemporary workplaces.

Advantages include:

  • Organic high-speed organisational growth compatibility
  • Naturally recurring structure for unlimited organisational size;
  • Boundaries for workgroup size to ensure maximum productivity;
  • Ideal for mentoring, low-risk career and succession planning;
  • Mutual responsibility and accountability – workgroup members hold each other responsible;
  • Flexibility allowing workgroups to can come together for projects, or for composite project groups to be formed as appropriate;
  • Enhanced influence of organisational values, purpose and culture; and
  • Compatibility with traditional hierarchical org charts to allow for easy transition or concurrent use.

21T cellular structure named

Far from reducing control or efficiency, by downplaying power and re-allocating responsibility to employees and workgroups, the 21T Cellular Organisational Structure naturally enhances the effective control of managers while simultaneously supporting improved engagement and productivity. Managers are also likely to benefit from having to handle fewer disputes, complaints and other problems, and the inevitable workplace gossip is more likely to be positive or neutral. The challenge that remains is that because relationships, trust, engagement and accountability are the strength of any social system (even those not recognised as such), limitations for the 21T Organisational Structure may arise from poor management and communication practices, unclear organisational purpose and priorities, or an unwillingness to hold self and others accountable – just as they do elsewhere. For that reason we recommend that managers are trained in how to manage themselves and others, particularly attending to areas like emotional intelligence, communication, collaboration, conflict resolution and performance management.

Perhaps the best news is that because it is natural and instinctive, the 21T Cellular Organisational Structure is not as complex, difficult or costly to implement as you may think. If you wish, you can even maintain your hierarchical organisational structure and use the 21T Cellular Organisational Structure to inform it as you go.

Contact us to discuss how the 21T Cellular Organisational Structure can be implemented quickly and at low cost into your organisation. Exclusive to 21 Triangles.


  • Beer, S. (1972) Brain of the firm, Penguin Press, London, UK
  • Baumeister, R. F., Leary, M. R. (1995) The need to belong: desire for interpersonal attachment as a fundamental human motivation, Psychological Bulletin, 117, 3, pp497-529
  • Dunbar, R. I. M., Coevolution of neocortical size, group size and language in humans (1993), Behavioural and brain sciences, 16, pp681-735




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