Posts Tagged ‘hierarchy’


April 5, 2016 2 comments

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?

Please Help Me With The Narrative

May 24, 2014 4 comments

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.

In Defense Of Hierarchy

March 10, 2014 1 comment

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!


The Long And Winding Road

January 13, 2014 Leave a comment

Huge Cajones

January 9, 2014 2 comments

According to “No Managers Required: How Zappos Ditched The Old Corporate Structure For Something New”,  by the end of 2014, 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.

Hierarchy Holarchy

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 ( and browsing through the ungodly long, complicated, formal Holacracy Constitution, the first thought that came to mind was “D’oh!“.

Twitter friend and guest blogger @serialmom sums up the situation with this insightful tweet:

SM Tweet

Manage-ification By Growth

December 13, 2013 Leave a comment

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?


Almost Yearly Apology

November 14, 2013 Leave a comment

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:

The Other Side

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?

Be Nice

They’ve Finally Done It, They Are In Control!

September 30, 2013 Leave a comment

Oh ratz! BD00 wishes he concocted this brilliant “Planet Of The Apes” parody T-shirt:

Planet Of The Mgrs

But alas, BD00 didn’t create the masterpiece. The Random Manager team did. Damn it! Here’s the BD00 rip off version:


Size, Flexibility, Learning

August 2, 2013 Leave a comment

Size Flex Learning

So, do ya think that the losses in flexibility and capacity for learning are forgone conclusions as an org increases in size (i.e. adds more managers, directors, executives)? If not, got any examples that demolish the theory?

One of the great tragedies of life is the murder of a beautiful theory by a gang of brutal facts. – Benjamin Franklin

Ghost Org

After discovering Valve Inc. earlier this year, I wrote several posts (here and here and here) praising their flat organizational structure and unique management practices. Well, as the saying goes, “nothing ever is as it seems“.

In February, Valve laid off a group of hardware designers and one of them has spoken out against the company. Jeri Ellsworth, the former head of Valve’s hardware division, is that person:

JE Fired

In a podcast interview, Jeri said the following unflattering things about the company:

There is actually a hidden layer of powerful management structure in the company, and it felt a lot like High School. There are popular kids that have acquired power, then there’s the trouble makers, and then everyone in between. Everyone in between is ok, but the trouble makers are the ones trying to make a difference.

Now we’ve all seen the Valve handbook, which offers a very idealized view. A lot of that is true. It is a pseudo-flat structure, where in small groups at least in small groups you are all peers and make decisions together.

Their structure probably works really well with about 20 people, but breaks down terribly when you get to a company of 300 people. Communication was a problem. I don’t think it works.

They have a bonus structure in there where you can get bonuses – if you work on very prestigious projects – that are more than what you earn. So everyone is trying to work on projects that are really visible. And it’s impossible to pull those people away for something risky like augmented reality because they only want to work on the sure thing. So that was a frustration, we were starved for resources. And I probably was [abrasive] but I just couldn’t find a way to make a process to actually deliver any hardware inside that company.

If I sound bitter, it’s because I am. I am really, really bitter. They promised me the world and then stabbed me in the back.

Despite my naivete and gullibility, I originally thought that Valve was an exemplar case. With over 300 employees, they seemingly proved that flatness and egalitarianism can scale. It seemed magical. But sigh, according to Jeri, who admittedly is only one data point, it doesn’t.

In light of this sad, new information, I no longer think flatness scales. At a certain (but unknown) size, hierarchy is required for sustained economic viability in for-profit enterprises. When you arrive at the (unknown) size where you need a hierarchy, tis better to have a visible, transparent pyramid than a hidden, privileged one.

The trouble with unwritten rules is that you don’t know where to go to erase them. – Unknown

I’m glad to be part of an org with a visible hierarchy instead of an invisible one. At least I know who to suck up to (which I do well) and who not to piss off (which I don’t do well).

Hierarchy will never go away, never. – Tom Peters

Ghost Org


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