From the Ask Tom mailbag –
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?
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.