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Hierarchy has its place

Jane and Stephen are hosting the Symposium on “Building the Engaged Flat Army for the Library” tomorrow at the iSchool @ University of Toronto. I’m honoured to be talking about organization structures – and will miss Ken Haycock joining me. Next time Ken. The slides I’m using are below.

‘Flattening’ an organization isn’t so much about ‘pushing down’ as it is about ‘pulling up’; a large management team does, indeed, pulls ‘layers’ closer together. I’m not sure why some people equate a small management team with a flat organization — it is definitely more of a pyramid to me. The more people around decision-making tables, the more insights, the more communication, the more understanding. Hierarchy has its place. It identifies who’s responsible – and, most importantly, who is accountable for what. There’s nothing like clarity to allow everyone to see the full picture.

Does hierarchy always work? nope. Does any organization structure or design always work? nope. You can have the best intentioned organization design and yet have a total disaster. It can be flat as a pancake and still be non-collaborative with the worst collegiality you’ve ever seen. Why? Because organizations are about people working together towards a shared goal. That sounds rather motherhoody, but it is true. Organizations need people with different roles, and some of those roles are to make decisions that have broad implications, and to be accountable. If you want to call the people in those roles managers, that’s fine. And one thing those managers have to do is manage the relationships and the processes in between the boxes or circles on the organization design. And if people in the organization want those relationships and processes to work — if they all want to get to that common goal — then they will. A clear organization design does have columns. Those columns don’t have to be ‘silos’, and it is up to the managers to ensure that they DON’T become silos. Cross-functional are cross-communication are mandatory for all organization structures to be successful, no matter how flat, round or triangle.

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