Further Thoughts on Org Structures…


…as enablers of PERFORMANCE and CULTURE

MATRICED ORGANIZATIONS – have distinctive multi-stakeholder intersections and, better than any other structure, help institutionalize the mitigation of corporate and operational risk. The very distributed lines of accountability and responsibility, the root of this mitigation; as anything flowing through the system will require multiple layers of assessment, input and approval… a necessity for organizations and industries that are heavily regulated and under close scrutiny, a counter-intuitive process for those businesses that require lesser levels of internal control.

HIERARCHAL ORGANIZATIONS – are human instinctive and thus, the most common form of structure; where one person or a group of individuals, set policy and direct the goods and services produced by such entity through employed or contracted others. Consequently, such organization will naturally consolidate or compress “power” at or near its top levels which, although operationally efficient, often result in much lesser corporate transparency and can more easily become the stage-set for dangerous governance behavior. The concentration of power-at-the-top is not a “bad thing” per se…but it certainly is a “volatile thing” both; when it is “real” and more so when it is “perceived”; especially without a robust set of independent and effective checks & balances.

FLAT ORGANIZATIONS – aim to streamline their structure as close to one dispersed leadership layer as possible… a continuum of functional responsibility and/or accountability which is governed by consensual majority. These too have their place in the organizational puzzle; there’s more opportunity to explore the serendipity in-between people and ideas, whilst events and projects do flow faster through the system… however, such structure; which necessitates a great deal of stakeholder self-discipline and confidence (if not downright boldness), is not for the faint-at-heart, can easily lead to excesses as well as governance lapses and often is harder to manage than the challenging matrix format.

In the end, all organizations should adopt a structure that best supports its objectives after a “balanced” analysis of the good and not-so-good traits and aspects of each format, as very few things are all good or all bad. BUT…

We all should be mindful that; organizational structures provide only a background to facilitate interactive protocols, no structure will actually achieve or deliver anything… only PEOPLE; performing within the context of these structures (and sometimes stretching their envelopes), can actually make them work effectively or not… which very naturally leads to;

VISION, DIRECTION AND CULTURE – by “Vision” I do not mean the average corporate statement all of us at times snicker about. Vision statements should be lofty and bold, slightly out-of-reach and a powerful reflection of what an organization truly aspires to be and/or achieve… thus requiring the continued building of organizational “bridges of understanding” to translate and link them to specific and measurable objectives and actions throughout the organization. This is a key aspect and responsibility of Leadership regardless of org structure format; to embed, defend and drive (thus making it “real”) the vision of an organization into becoming a key part of its daily ethos.

Management Teams, when aligned and either enlightened or within enlightened organizations, tend to achieve this through a collaborative and informed effort, taking on-board their own intellect and experience, the input from benchmarked competitors, customers/markets, and the voices of the whole internal organization not necessarily in that order. All of it… working together and in-synch become an enterprise’s “Culture” me thinks; the foundational component that binds and supports all people interact, govern and out-deliver consistently.

Fluid times, Org Structures and Leadership


courtesy of HMI

For as long as we can imagine and regardless of structure, most organizations have applied autocratic methods when selecting or appointing new leadership… in general, these methodologies aimed for the new appointments to follow and reinforce established corporate views and/or culture and deliver to a largely pre-determined agenda.

Nowadays, dazed by nearly two years of relentless economic and financial breakdowns and increasing regulatory and market scrutiny, there are views that continuing and anticipated further challenges over the coming decade will demand a new breed of networking and collaborative leadership, and drive a rise in flat/leaner organizations over matrix bound ones, which on the later, some believe will falter and in-time disappear altogether.

However, I do not consider this a logical view… matriced structures are designed and especially apt at mitigating risk by imbedding balanced planning, collaborative if not aligned decisions and consistency of outcomes into an organization.

Albeit cumbersome and at-first awkward to grasp and manage, in instances where ad-hoc creativity or unstructured experimentation could be viewed as “liabilities”; like within process driven organizations or heavily regulated public and private sector practices, they are remarkably effective at driving organizational cohesion and controlled outflows.

“Power”, with all its good and bad permutations, is within matriced structures much more diffused throughout the organization (a “good” thing) than in their “simpler” cousins; the nearly ubiquitous hierarchical driven pyramid structures, which in-fact end up concentrating “power” (and sometimes shielding it) at its peak and from there “directing” the rest of the organization.

Flat structures on the other hand, were “built-for-speed”…they promote and generate “culture” driven, shape-shifting fluid organizations where many good things like creativity, learning and experimentation can broadly happen, evolve and mutate very rapidly. However, they can also suffer from or be exposed to some not-so-good consequences like; organizational confusion (who’s on first?), the adequate protection of its intellectual property, judiciously balancing and tweaking its costs/income/investment ratios, establishing a vision and staying focused on it…etc.

Essential to all of these (and all of the many variations in each model), is Leadership… in its finest form, the provision of vision and direction; instilling what is good, excising what isn’t, being disciplined to lead by example and becoming the glue that binds the tribe. There is no greater calling than this, it is paramount to all organizational structures and levels and it is timeless.

It isn’t leadership for the future or of the past, it lives in the “now”… it also isn’t defined by style…True Leadership just is that and can be effective in any type or form of structure because it isn’t bound by such rather, it manages and extracts value from each model and variation and fosters like actions in others.

In my opinion, the next decade will see organizations structure themselves in ever evolving variations of one of the three models noted here and paying closer attention to fostering, developing and evolving leadership from within… for if there is anything that is dying fast, it’s the concept of the charismatic “lone warrior” breezing-in from afar to save the day.

– conceptual excerpts first published by the author in Feb’10 on Leaders Cafe 2020

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