Flow in a Hierarchy

Hierarchies are naturally created as a sorting process using a defined value. If the value is power, it’s a power hierarchy. If the value is command, it’s a command hierarchy. If the value is control, it’s a control hierarchy. If the value is competence, it’s a competence hierarchy.

In a power hierarchy, energy flows from those with the power. Authority is assigned to those with the power. Decisions are made by the person in power. Problems are solved by the person in power. Critics of hierarchy likely have this value stream in mind and complain about top down, command and control. It’s not a bad argument, but their angst is directed toward hierarchy, not power.

What’s so bad about a power hierarchy? There are a number of problems. First is organizational speed. If all decisions have to made by those with the power, the speed of decision making will slow down or stop. If all problems have to be solved by those with power, the speed of problem solving will slow down or stop.

If decisions require local knowledge about the subject at hand, those with power must stop to learn the local knowledge. If decisions require technical expertise, those with power must stop to learn the technical expertise. The decision slows down.

If the power hierarchy vests power in those who have the power (circular reference with a purpose), how do those in power remain in power? The only basis for remaining in power is by edict, corruption or tyranny. The justification resembles the parent response, “Because I said so.”

The initial response from a child is obedience because the child is dependent on the parent, but the impact on the psyche of the child is none too positive. “Because I said so,” eventually creates counterproductive sandbagging, passive aggressive behavior, outright defiance. The endgame for the child is to create a condition of independence and leave the family, sometimes not so amicably.

The impact in a power hierarchy is that team members will seek to become the person in power or they will leave. Except for those employees who remain dependent on the structure for their own survival.

Those who seek power in a power hierarchy will use whatever means to gain that power, which may include intimidation, tight control, harboring knowledge and deception. Those who leave create a turnover statistic which eventually gets noticed by HR. And those who stay, because they have no other option, will behave in all manner to remain in the good graces of those in power. None of these scenarios create the culture of a thriving, forward looking, innovative organization.

But, what if the value in the organizational hierarchy was one of competence? A hierarchy of competence.

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