Effective Organizations

This post is part of a series covering topics from QSource: the F3 Manual of Virtuous Leadership. You can find the entirety of this text here: https://f3nation.com/q/, or pick up a hard copy at your favorite book retailer.


What type of organization do you want to work for? What inspires you to join a company or a club or a church or whatever? This post covers a way to view how an organization pursues its goals.

In F3, we define three types of Organizations: Lizards, Bullfrogs and Leeches. You can find a more formal discussion of these at https://f3nation.com/q/group/

A Lizard is a dynamic organization that is constantly accelerating towards its goal. The only reason a Lizard exists is to realize its purpose. The image of the lizard is of a dynamic animal that is fast, agile and constantly in motion. Lizards have members dedicated to realizing the organization’s purpose.

A Bullfrog is an organization that is entirely concerned with existential continuity. Where lizards are concerned with moving forward (accelerating), bullfrogs are concerned with staying in place. Bullfrogs are loud, sedentary creatures more apt to wait for food to wander near them, rather than to actively hunt. Bullfrog organizations usually have a stated purpose that looks a lot like Lizards, but members of a Bullfrog are incentivized to follow rules, rather than accelerating the organiztion purpose.

A Leech is an organization that has become so sedentary and toxic that it actually feeds off of Bullfrogs. Members of a Leech are entirely worried about individual continuity (covering their own ass), rather than the existential continuity of the organization or the realization of the organization’s purpose. 

So what? Who cares what animal your organization is like?

What type of organization would you prefer to join? A Bullfrog may sound appealing, because the pressure is on maintaining something that’s already been built, rather than building something new. Ultimately, however, the fate of the Bullfrog has one of two ends: either the bullfrog will be overrun by lizards and become obsolete. Or entropy and atrophy will eventually reduce a bullfrog to the point where it entirely fades into irrelevance. Either way, bullfrogs won’t survive forever.

Lizards, on the other hand, are dynamic and constantly staying ahead of changes in their environments. Lizards provide group members with a way to realize a purpose, rather than mere membership.

Is it really as simple as one or the other?

Lizard-ness and bullfrog-ness are each more like a continuum, rather than an all-or-nothing proposition. Some lizards are more lizard-like than others, etc. Also, it’s quite possible to shift in and out of lizard states over time.  I believe there are two key dimensions to the Lizard-Bullfrog-Leech continuum:

  1. Seasonality – organizations drift between various states of being more lizard-like or more bullfrog-like over time.
  2. Sub-organization dynamism – organizations have sub-organizations in varying states on the lizard-bullfrog-leech continuum. Lizards teams do exist inside bullfrogs, although they probably don’t live too long.


Whether you’re talking about a church, company or book club, all organizations start out as a Lizard. There is always some purpose identified by a leader (or leaders) that the organization was founded to realize.  Initially, leaders and group members have enthusiasm for the purpose, and help dynamically move the group towards realizing its purpose.

If an organization survives long enough, there will be a natural tendency to evolve into a bullfrog. Leadership transitions, the accomplishing of initial goals, or simply getting bored can all be causes of lizards becoming bullfrogs.  Anyway you slice it, the tendency towards bullfrogs is strong and immutable. It’s the law of entropy expressed in organization logic. To remain a lizard, organizations have to be extremely deliberate. 

It’s quite possible, for a bullfrog to become a lizard. Moments of Lizard-ness help get an organization out of a rut, and propel the organization to overcome some obstacles. The re-giniting of lizard-ness is always triggered by a leader incentivized to make a change. That incentive could be a carrot – there’s an opportunity for the leader and/or the organization to gain something important – or a stick – the leader will be punished if they don’t make a change.

At the company I currently work at, we have a very strong operating system that helps us maintain our lizard-ness. That’s not to say that all teams are strong lizards, all the time. Far from it. But the baseline operating system provides a clear framework for maintaining our status as a lizard. The framework is adapted from the Verne Harnish’s Rockefeller Habits (https://blog.growthinstitute.com/scale-up-blueprint/10-rockefeller-habits-checklist)

I’ve worked for 6 different companies and have been a part of dozens of clubs, churches and civic organizations. The Rockefeller Habits are, by far, the most effective operating system for an organization to achieve success.

Inter-Organization Dynamism

The other dimension of the continuum is the fact that sub-organizations and teams within the organization may be at varying states of lizard-ness or bullfrog-ness.  For example, sales teams tend to be the most lizard-like parts of an organization. That is because sales departments are the easiest to measure and manage objectively.  

Another reason you see a team stand out as a lizard compared to other teams is that the leader of the team simply decides to operate as a lizard. Some people have a natural inclination to accelerate towards goals, and they can have a profound impact on their team.  This can be a tough situation for the leader if the bullfrog-ness of the rest of the organization attempts to push the lizard team into being more bullfrog-like. 

Why does all this matter?

Whatever organization you’re a part of, you need to understand where the organization is on this spectrum, and decide if that aligns with what you want. If you want to be part of a lizard, you need to seek it out, or help be part of the mechanism that transforms the organization from a bullfrog into a lizard.  But how do you become a lizard? You have to act like a Lizard in order to become a lizard! The final lesson in the F3 Qsource Manual is on this very topic: https://f3nation.com/q/lizard-building/.

The three key takeaways from this chapter are:

  1. Effective Organizations are built through relationships, not rules
  2. An Effective Organization is a mass of Dynamic Teams led by Sua Sponte Leaders
  3. The Virtuous Leader stays 43 feet ahead of his Organization’s Movement

I’ll cover this topic in a future blog post.