Thursday, September 18, 2008

The Nuts & Bolts of Organizational Struction

It came to me today in yet another random flash of brilliance. Perhaps it isn't so brilliant but I impressed myself nonetheless. A bare-bones dissection of any organization reveals the 3 layers in organizational structure, the classes of employees if you will. It consists of low level workers, middle management & upper management.

Low level workers do all the grunt work. Their tasks can be menial, physical or extremely technical but their work produces the raison d'etre of the organization. Without the workers, there is no need for anything else. Upper management make important org-wide decisions that can have effects trickling down to every last employee mainly because their decisions affect the direction a company takes. Their decisions can make or break the organization.

As for middle management, we always hear about large organizations having too many mid-level managers. It has become a trend to consider middle management as completely unneccesary. Thus, the many layoffs in large companies in recent years create a harsh, competitive landscape for those in middle management positions and re-affirms this myth that we don't need them.

True, too much middle management creates unneccesarily inefficient bureaucracies but just the right amount of middle management will actually create a more cohesive organization. I love real and completely unrelated analogies so here is my brilliant new thought.

Take the nut, the bolt and the washer. The bolt does a half-assed job of holding two parts together but the nut keeps it in line. Without a washer though, that bolt is likely to slide from the nut over time and everything falls apart. I think the expression "cog in the machine" used to apply more to low level employees but now applies more to mid level management. It is actually a more fitting analogy anyway though it is often used incorrectly in the negative for cogs in a machine are absolutely neccesary. Cogs or gears are used for various reasons (from Jen Lewin):

1) They can reverse the direction of a motor or drive.
2) They can increase or decrease the turning of a motor.
3) They can increase or decrease the power of a motor's turning.

To sum up my point: the right cog and the right amount of cogs in the machine can make it a more powerful force to contend with therefore cogs & middle management should not be so easily dismissed.

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