Consider a classic, straight-line, hierarchical organization:
Because of the structure of the vertical communication links that tie the org together into a system, the dudes at the top are guaranteed to have a distorted understanding of what the dudes at the bottom are doing – and vice versa. With no direct lines of communication between non-adjacent layers, how could it be otherwise?
Of course, everyone who has ever toiled in the lower layers of such a “classic” hierarchy has railed against what they perceive as the unfairness and inhumanity of participating in such a system.
So then, if the classic, straight-line, vertical hierarchy is so bad for those grinding it out in the lower layers, which is a better system structure:
If you’re expecting BD00 to definitively choose sides, extolling the virtues of “the good one” while denigrating the vices of “the bad one“, fuggedaboudit. There is no universally applicable “good one“. Or is there?
This is another one of those BD00 posts where the dorky picture effortlessly drew itself, but an accompanying, plausible narrative did not reveal itself. These word clusters came to mind during the chaotic process of creation, but I gave up attempting to iteratively structure and weave them together into anything semi-sane: “role distinction“, “bottom-up vs. top-down evolution“, “dumb, uniform components vs smart, diverse components“, “enduring vs. fragile foundation“, “excessive control“, “caste system“.
What words come to mind when you peruse the picture? Can can you fuse a story line with the picture? Please help me with the narrative, dear reader. Secrete your creative hormones on the problem at hand. Revel in the possibility of making sense out of nonsense. Like Elton John’s music goes with Bernie Taupin’s words, we can have your words go with BD00’s dorky picture.
Of course, like the one or two other posts similar to this that I’ve hatched in the past, I don’t expect any takers.
The word “hierarchy” gets no respect. Except for popes, generals, executives, and managers, who tend to thrive exquisitely in command and control hierarchies, many people associate hierarchical social structures with ineffectual bureaucracy, back-stabbing politics, patronization, unfair distribution of status and rewards, and suppression of individual initiative.
Despite all the bad press, hierarchically structured social systems do have benefits; even for those residing in the lowest tiers of the pyramid. One benefit that hierarchy serves up is… orderly execution of operations:
Imagine if students argued with their teachers, workers challenged their bosses, and drivers ignored traffic cops anytime they asked them to do something they didn’t like. The world would descend into chaos in about five minutes. – Duncan J. Watts
In “Influence” Robert Cialdini writes:
A multi-layered and widely accepted system of authority confers an immense advantage upon a society. It allows the development of sophisticated structures for resource production, trade, defense, expansion, and social control that would otherwise be impossible. The other alternative, anarchy, is a state that is hardly known for its beneficial effects on cultural groups and one that the social philosopher Thomas Hobbes assures us would render life “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.”
I don’t agree with Mr. Cialdini that the alternative to hierarchy is pure anarchy, but his point, like Mr. Watts’s, is a good one.
Management “guru” Tom Peters (to whom I used to closely listen to prior to reading Matt Stewart’s brilliant “The Management Myth“), sums it up nicely with:
Hierarchy will never go away. Never!
According to “No Managers Required: How Zappos Ditched The Old Corporate Structure For Something New”, by the end of 2014, Zappos.com will have dismantled their corpo pyramid. Under the stewardship of maverick CEO Tony Hsieh, the 1500 employee company will be transitioned into a “holacracy” of 400, self-governing circles.
Talk about having huge cajones. Just think of the disruptive risk to business performance of making such a daring structural/operational change to a billion dollar enterprise.
Although I look forward to watching how the transformation plays out, I’m a bit skeptical that Mr. Hsieh can pull it off. After visiting the site of the “consultant” that will be advising the company during the transition (holacracy.org) and browsing through the ungodly long, complicated, formal Holacracy Constitution, the first thought that came to mind was “D’oh!“.
Somewhere on the road from small startup sensation to huge institutional borgdom, the oft-repeated process of “manage-ification by growth” fires up and kicks into high gear. It’s inevitable, or is it?
Every once in a blue moon, BD00’s conscience compels him to apologize to the guild of 20th century management for his non-compliant, “unacceptable“, online behavior . Here’s this year’s mild BD00 apology:
I’m really glad my conscience periodically crashes the Ackoff-Deming-Argyris-Senge-Hamel-Semler-Nayar-Hsieh anti-management party that rocks on in my brain. It gives the non-BD00 half of me the comfort of knowing that he’s not an apathetic, tunnel-visioned psychopath… errr does it?