Monday, September 28, 2015

Org Structures: Pyramids to Control Towers?

Organizational structures, both for-profit and not-for-profit, have often been likened to pyramids.  This was obviously driven by the number of people at the bottom versus the top.  Interestingly though, today’s organizations have begun resembling pyramids in other important features:
1.       They are designed to connect layer-by-layer – meaning there is no direct connection between the bottom and the apex.  You are compelled to get information only from the layer next to you.
2.       The focus is on the mass at the bottom – the apex serves almost like a “crown” on the body. 
3.       They are archaic
In contrast, what we want of our organization structures today are:
·         Ability to communicate direct across the length and breadth of the organization
·         Get value-added information from immediate next layer when needed, and directly from the sender otherwise.
·         A general ability to interact direct (communicate with or get status of) with any slice of the organization: vertical, horizontal, diagonal or pin-pointed.
 Unfortunately the “matrix” structure followed by many large organizations too does not fit the bill, as they are in fact tend to be a row of pyramids connected to each other at the apex.

Looking for a physical structure that could better describe our requirements, it occurred to me that an Air Traffic Control Tower might be a good one to pick.  Not that it is the ideal. But consider these factors:
1.       The “cab” at the top is where the “head” is, where the focus falls
2.       The body serves to support and “ground” the cab
3.       To the extent the body is populated and adds value, it is can be connected to the cab with a shaft-and-wings skeleton that has vents all along to allow information flow.
A different analogy could be the contrast between a pear-shaped body and an apple-shaped one.  The medical establishment is fairly agreed on which one is better for us.
How does build this shaft-and-wings skeleton?  What is it made of?
In my experience at, and consultations with, a wide swath of businesses from start-ups and SMEs to large corporates, I realized that certain very ordinary practices, institutions and tools play a big role in the making of the skeleton.  These are:
·         People (but, of course)
·         Policies
·         Procedures (aka processes)
·         Technology (mostly information technology).
Call them 3P-T for short.  I believe, these 4 elements of an organization are instrumental in shaping its culture and deserve the highest level of attention.  More so, if you seek an entrepreneurial culture in your organization!
More on 3P-T soon!...

... Sri Vadrevu