Category Archives: Organization Structure

Forbidden Relationship

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Question:
You talk about the manager once removed, the manager’s manager. That’s me. You say that I should have a mentoring relationship with the team two levels below. Our company has a policy that if I need to communicate with that team, I am required to go through their manager. It’s almost a forbidden relationship.

Response:
It’s an unfortunate policy. As the manager once removed, there is a required relationship with the team two levels of work below. Now, it’s not an accountability relationship. It is a mentoring relationship.

Manager Once Removed

Manager Once Removed

The direct manager has an accountability relationship, and the conversation with the team member is all about production. The manager once removed has a mentoring relationship and the conversation is about longer time span issues like career advancement, training opportunities and work environment.

This is an absolute requirement. You see, at some point, the manager role will become vacant (all relationships, at some point, are terminal). The manager once removed will be faced with replacing the manager. The first place to source candidates will be internal. But, if the manager once removed does not have a coherent mentoring relationship, the MOR will have no clue as to who may be able to step up. In that case, the MOR will have to start at square one.

Massive Update to Time Span 101

Just wanted to tell you about a massive content update to Time Span 101.

New Video Content (2-1/2 hours worth)
Time Span 101 now contains video from our most popular workshop Management Myths and Time Span. We recently produced this recording, and embedded more than 2-1/2 hours in 23 video segments into the learning platform at Time Span 101. If you attended one of my live workshops over the past ten years, this is your chance to re-capture the things you discovered about your organization.


New Updated Workbook
Subscribers will receive our pdf workbook, based on the workshop handout, to help organize your notes as you go through the program.

Old Subscribers
If you already have a subscription to Time Span 101, your login still works. You will receive a separate email with more details, including the pdf workbook.

New Subscribers
Get your login, now, for only $100. Register here – Time Span 101.

Learn the Way You Want to Learn
It’s up to you -

  • Follow the program – Timespan101.com is built in a logical sequence, so that one principle builds on another. It’s a no-brainer.
  • Random Access – You might have a particular interest. You can access any of the topics out-of-order based on your own interests.
  • Just Watch the Videos – If you just want to watch the videos, there is a link in [How to Use This Program] to just watch the videos. There are (23) video segments in the playlist. More than 2-1/2 hours of embedded videos.

Share This Critical Research
If you know someone else, who might also be interested in the Time Span research of Elliott Jaques, let me know. If you have any questions, just Ask Tom.

“Zappos just abolished bosses” – Baloney

“The latest management trend to sweep Silicon Valley requires CEOs to formally relinquish their authority and grants special protection for every employee to experiment with ideas. It’s called holacracy and big name tech leaders have jumped on the bandwagon,” proclaims Gregory Ferenstein in his post on Vox, July 11, 2014.

“Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh announced that he will transition his entire Las Vegas company — with a billion dollars of revenue and 1500 workers — to holacracy by the end of 2014.”

Holacracy is described as the latest management craze and it is just that – craziness. The problem with craziness is that a manager or CEO will read his article and naively follow a prescription that will cost hard dollars and create untold havoc. Following Ferenstein’s prescription could be fatal.

Holacracy is a weasel word. It attempts to use new (made up) terminology to mask a vague notion of contrived credibility.

“Holacracy is management by committee with an emphasis on experimentation. The CEO formally relinquishes authority to a constitution and re-organizes everyone into decentralized teams that choose their own roles roles and goals,” explains Ferenstein. Think about this. What is delegation? Delegation is the assignment of accountability and authority to complete a task. Delegation shifts the accountability and authority to a “decentralized” team that chooses to complete the task (or not).

And believe me. If the “decentralized” team chooses not to complete the task and adopts a six hour lunch break, some manager will step in and say “Guys and gals, that is not what we had in mind.”

If you read this column regularly, you know I am a structure guy focused on the research of Elliott Jaques. This notion of giving a team direction (an objective) and providing them latitude (time span of discretion), within limits, to solve a problem is not a new notion. Holacracy is baloney (weasel word).

Ferenstein would argue with the words “within limits.” He would argue that Hsieh would set those limits free. That will not be the case. Hsieh will define those limits (discretionary authority). Holacracy obscures what is really happening using words without meaning.

“Advocates for holacracy argue that centralization of power suffocates innovation.” Here is the biggest problem with Ferenstein’s description – most managers, CEOs and writers about management DO NOT UNDERSTAND the purpose for hierarchy. They believe that management is all about centralization of power. Hierarchy has little to do with power. Hierarchy has everything to do with accountability and authority.

So, is Tony Hseih misguided in his actions and decisions related to his management structure? No. What IS MISGUIDED is the understanding of what he is doing and its description as holacracy. Over my next few posts, we will look closer at what Tony is doing and see that it is nothing new. And if Tony understood his decisions more clearly, in the context that I will describe, those decisions would be more effective in creating his image of an organization.

The purpose of an organization is not to broker power, but to get work done. I know that is what Tony wants to do. The question is, what does that structure look like? It ain’t holacracy.

Why Structure?

If you read this blog for more than a few days, you figure out pretty quick that I am a structure guy. Most people can recite the bus analogy, “Get the right people in the right seats on the bus,” but what most miss is the quote that immediately follows. “If you get the right people in the right seats (organizational structure) your issues related to motivation and management largely go away.” Jim Collins said that.

Just finished Creativity, Inc, by Ed Catmull (Pixar). “We made the mistake of confusing the communication structure with the organizational structure.”

In my world, Catmull is confused about organizational structure. Your organizational structure is your communication structure. The purpose of structure is to create those necessary communication channels for feedback loops, data gathering, discussion and decision making.
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What is the Level of Work in Disney?

From the Ask Tom mailbag – Related to yesterday’s post on Levels of Work. Thanks to Barry for posting.

Question:
I agree that the place to start is with the work, but I’m confused by your presentation of the structure of the work. This description seems to only apply to organizations that have five hierarchical levels. When Walt Disney was 20, he was president of a corporation called Laugh-O-Gram Films, Inc., that was established to make a series of silent cartoons. This was long before the creation of Mickey Mouse. All ten or so employees reported directly to Walt.

So, I agree with your last statement that the first step is to understand the work and the different levels of work, but I’m not sure the work necessarily matches up with the five levels you provided.

Response:
Barry, thank you for a great question. You are correct. Not every organization has five levels of work. The example you provide, Laugh-O-Gram films was likely a Stratum III organization. Each film was likely a Stratum II project, but to be successful, they had to develop Stratum III systems in their animation methods. Ten or so employees would be consistent at that level of organization.

As time went by, Disney’s successor corporations, either by organic growth or acquisition, grew in complexity. We can calibrate that complexity using Time Span, examining each successive level of work. Disney is now Disney-ABC Television Group after its acquisition of ABC-Cap Cities in 1996. Now, an international media company, its highest level of work is high Stratum VI or low Stratum VII.

Time Span – Where Do I Start, How to Implement?

From the Ask Tom mailbag -

Question - 
I attended one of your workshops on Time Span.  Since that day, the subject is like a song that I just can’t get out of my head.  At the same time, where do I start?  You described Time Span, or Requisite Organization as a comprehensive management system, but where do I start?

Response - 
A first introduction to Requisite Organization and its central kernel, Time Span, can be overwhelming.  But the first steps are not that complicated.  Over the past ten years, I have shared this concept with more than 5,000 CEOs and managers, and this is always the first question – Where do I start?

It’s all about the work.

There are many kinds of organizations in the world, groups of people organized around a purpose.  There are religious organizations, community service organizations, political organizations, and organizations to get work done.  Work is my focus.  It’s all about the work.

So, what is the work that has to be done.  Where do I start?  It starts by understanding the answers to these questions.  These questions are helpful, to understand the different levels of work required in any complex endeavor.  Where you start, is by understanding the work.  The first step is understanding, the first step is a design step.

  • (S-V) What is the superior purpose for the work?  At the end of our foreseeable future, what do we want to accomplish?  This is often called vision, mission, purpose.  Without defining this purpose, the rest of the list doesn’t make sense.
  • (S-IV) To achieve the superior purpose (vision, mission), what are the big milestones that have to be achieved?  What are the big rocks that have to be moved?
  • (S-III) To move those big rocks, what are the consistent, repeatable behaviors (habits, systems) that have to be created?
  • (S-II) Inside each system, what are the deadlines and completed actions (projects) that have to be completed?  What are the materials, equipment and people required to complete those projects?
  • (S-I) What are the fundamental tasks that have to be organized?  What is the production work that has to be completed day in and day out?

The first step is to understand the work, to understand the different levels of work.

Finger Pointing Between Functional Departments

From the Ask Tom mailbag -

Question:
Any advice as to how to align all members from multiple cross-functional departments into one purpose; create an efficient, streamlined process that assures that communication, documentation and actual product flow is executed efficiently?  We are specifically a design firm, but our revenue comes from the products manufactured from our exclusive designs.  So, we have mature internal systems in each department, but the transitions of work flow from one department to the other sometimes break down, so there are logjams, finger-pointing and sometimes, general chaos.

Response:
Much of the answer is in your question.  Let me pick out your key words.

  • Purpose
  • Efficiency
  • Flow

Let me add three more.

  • Balance and optimization
  • Authority
  • Accountability

What you have described is the classic transition from Stratum III systems to Stratum IV system integration.  It sounds like you have done an adequate job of creating multiple internal systems, that are efficient in each of your workflow disciplines.  It is the integration of these systems that is giving you fits.  Let me take a stab at listing some typical systems in this flow.

  • Market research system
  • Design system
  • Prototyping system
  • Approval system
  • Production system
  • Finished goods inventory system
  • Marketing system
  • Distribution and logistics system

Each of your internal systems likely works well within itself, but now you are experiencing balance problems between your internal systems.  It is not sufficient to have a great design system and a great production system.  If you have a weak prototyping system, your designs will get stuck on paper and never make it to production.  You may have a great marketing system that creates consumer demand, but if you have a weak finished goods inventory system, your products will never find their way to distribution.  Your weak systems will be doing their best and your strong systems will be finger-pointing.

So, that’s the problem.  What is the solution?  This is a Stratum IV issue, where someone needs to have end-to-end accountability.  Some companies attempt to solve this problem by creating a role called product manager.  The product manager would be accountable for tracking each step, likely creating a Gant chart of product progress from one function to another.  While this role gathers necessary data about the status of a single product in the chain, it still might only document that the product is stuck.

That is why this is a Stratum IV issue, one of balance and integration.  The S-IV manager (likely a VP) would be accountable for examining each system for capacity and handoff.  This is not looking internally at the mechanics of a single system, but the interaction of each reinforcing system to each balancing system.  It is not a matter of having one or two high performing functions, but having all functions able to keep up with each other, optimized for capacity.  No single system manager will have the authority, nor likely the capability, to do this work.

And somewhere in this integrated whole system, there will be a constraint.  There will be some limitation in a single system which will drive the cadence of all the systems working together.  The hat trick is identifying and placing that constraint strategically.  Typically, this strategic constraint will be an expensive resource, too expensive to duplicate (which would double the capacity of that system).  The identification, selection and placement of the strategic constraint, and then subordination of all other systems to the strategic constraint is the work of the S-IV manager.

With this integrated system design, then the work of documentation, handoffs, communication and feedback loops begins.  Most companies get this backward and have a communication seminar without balancing the systems for total throughput.  You can imagine that this communication seminar makes everyone feel good, but nothing changes in throughput, the finger-pointing continues.

For more reading, start with Eli Goldratt’s The Goal and Peter Senge’s Fifth Discipline.

Tribal Leadership?

From the Ask Tom mailbag -

Question:
I just picked up a book on tribal leadership that suggests hierarchy is an old fashioned, out dated approach to organizational structure.  Your workshop suggests that hierarchy is the only approach to organizational structure?

Response:
I hear these things from time to time, about how hierarchy should be abandoned and replaced with throwbacks to earlier organizational models and, as you can imagine, I am not overly impressed.  First, understand that there are many purposes for groups to organize.  Groups may come together to worship, promote political causes, live as families and communities.  Each may engage in different organizational structures, collegial, political, religious, family.  When I promote hierarchy as a structure, I am referring only to those groups of people organized to get work done.

And some work does not require a complicated structure.  But, gather any group of people together and give them a task to do, they will self-organize into a structure to get the work done.  First, a leader will emerge.  That person does not have to be assigned that role, they will simply emerge from the group.  If the group task requires several separate, simultaneous actions, people will gravitate to roles and cooperate, under the guidance of the leader to complete the task assignment.  If the task is of sufficient difficulty, requiring problems to be solved and decisions to be made, that organized group will take on the shape of a hierarchy.

I know there are organizations, designed to accomplish work, that self-proclaim a flat, tribal, non-hierarchical structure.  Baloney.  If the work is of sufficient complexity, and you examine the related tasks and people playing roles to complete those tasks, you will find hierarchy.

No tribe ever sent a man to the moon.

Identifying Supervisory Capability

“When was the last time you walked the floor and talked to the line crew,” I asked.

Denny paused.  He knew it was a loaded question.  “I walk the floor a couple of times a day.  But, I depend on my supervisors to talk to the line crew.  As the Plant Manager, I have a lot of important things that keep me in my office.”

“So, what do your supervisors tell you about the line crew?”

“Mostly, they just complain about this one coming in late, or somebody out sick.  The usual stuff.”

“So, you never actually talk to anyone on the line crew?” I pressed.

“No, if there is a problem, I let my supervisors handle it.  I don’t want to interrupt the chain of command,” Denny explained.

“What happens if one of your supervisor’s quits?”

Denny peered over the top of his glasses.  “I guess I would have to hire another supervisor.”

“And, where would you go first, inside or outside?”

“I don’t know that there is anyone on the line that could step up and be supervisor.  I would just put an ad in the paper, do some interviews and pick somebody.”

“Why don’t you know if there is anyone on the line with supervisory capability?”

The Problem with Matrix Management

From the Ask Tom mailbag -

Question:
Our company has a Matrix management structure within a functional structure.  Each department is struggling with execution and achieving target results partially due to resource alignment challenges associated with the functional and matrix organization structure. 

Response:
Matrix structures were created, with the best of intention, to resolve priority conflicts.  A team member who is temporarily assigned or part time assigned to a project team has a new built-in conflict.  “Who is my manager?”

Do I take direction from my manager or my project leader?  And when there is conflict between those directions, who wins?

And that is how matrix management was born.  Unfortunately, the end result simply codifies the existence of the team member’s (now) two managers without identifying who the real manager is.  Further, it does little to bring clarity to the project leader’s authority when there are conflicts.  The team member is simply stuck.

Again, the intention to invent Matrix was pure, to identify managerial authority and project leader authority related to the same team member.  Mixed results emerged.  Luckily, projects have limited duration and so the undecided conflicts eventually go away.  Some declared that Matrix was effective and then made the fatal mistake.  The fatal mistake was thinking that Matrix should then be applied to the entire enterprise.

Matrix operates under the false assumption that a team member can have two (or more) managers.  Matrix does little to identify the managerial authorities or the limited cross functional authorities required by a project leader.

This perspective was clearly identified by Elliott Jaques in his research on time-span. The prescription is to dismantle Matrix, establish clear accountability in your managerial relationships and structure cross-functional working relationships for the following roles -

  • Project leader
  • Auditor
  • Monitor
  • Coordinating relationship
  • Service getting relationship
  • Collateral relationship
  • Advisory relationship

These cross functional working relationships accurately identify the limited accountability and limited authority required to successfully move work horizontally through the organization.

If you would like a pdf about cross-functional working relationships, titled “Get Rid of Your Dotted Lines,” just Ask Tom.