Hacking HR to Build an Adaptability Advantage

keith-gulliver's picture

Rigid organizational structures

By Keith Gulliver on May 13, 2022

Here are some signs of a rigid organizational structure:

  • A centralized 'command and control' style of leadership prevails.

  • Hierarchical organization with many layers of management between 'top and bottom'.

  • Small spans of control.

  • Functional silos that operate independently.

  • Very little movement of talent around the organization between silos.

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olivier-lambel's picture

Thanks Fiona..Norstrum one short & sweet and indeed very meaningful..

fiona-savage's picture

Oliver Great hand book, I cam across Norstrums hand book simplicity is best! http://37signals.com/svn/posts/2632-nordstroms-employee-handbook-mdash-s...

Paula makes an important point - the RIGHT THINGS are rigid, and other things are agile and flexible. If I understand Paula's point correctly, I'd propose that the “right things” are best defined by the work - what kind of work (workflow or business processes) is being performed. Some work, like systems design or other engineering design or creative work, benefit from high levels of creativity, individuality and adaptability. Other work, like many manufacturing tasks, may need greater rigidity and control (although one could argue that workers participating in Kanban or continuous improvement activities can add improvement insights which can change the way work is done). In the former work environment, a greater degree of adaptability is needed, while in the latter, greater control is likely best. One size does not fit all – at least not in the same timeframe. In the medium to long term, even manufacturing will have to become more adaptable as design, manufacture and go to market cycles shorten.

paula-aamli's picture

Keith, Olivier

Thanks for these contributions to the debate and I look forward to having a look at the handbook.

I'm struggling a little to get to a clear position in my thinking on the subject of rigidity.

As presented by Keith, I can definitely see the downside - and I guess the one that most resonates for me is rigidity between different silos (or in language I quite like in exploring behaviour within organisations - hard boundaries between independent interest groups or 'tribes').

At the same time, some rigid structure clearly has useful purpose - I'm thinking both of the analogy of the usefulness of a rigid skeleton to enable human beings to walk upright and the many ways in which my life is made safer and more convenient - as well as more constrained - by living in a country with overall high respect for the 'rule of law'.

Perhaps it's critical that the RIGHT THINGs are rigid and to the right extent - otherwise, following the analogy, the skeleton suffers arthritis (as somone else in this part of the Hack put it) - and similarly if we're living with bad laws, then the rule of law becomes much less comforting.

olivier-lambel's picture

Keith, thank you so much for your positive feedback, it warms my heart and definitely inspire us to keep going and innovate. Cheers

olivier-lambel's picture

We recently created & released an Employee Handbook that embodies our way to empower individual & collective freedom, breaking away from pyramidal alienation. This is pretty much our conception of adaptability. If you have 1 min or 2...have a glance here https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/39302859/EceteraEmployeeHandbook/Ece... and tell me what you think.

keith-gulliver's picture

Olivier - wow this is awesome! Many, many thanks for sharing. The diagram at the top of page 10 really did make me Laugh Out Loud! :-D I love the inverted pyramid diagram. The section on Autonomy tells me a lot about Ecetera.

There are so many great examples that illustrate the points we've been making about organizational adaptability. I've picked out a few below which caught my eye. EVERYONE ON THE HACKATHON SHOULD READ THE HANDBOOK!

>> smell the vision and taste the values.

>> We needed to create an environment that would foster the specialist skills required to solve specific problems, empower people to do good work, encourage them to be brave and honest with customers...and protect them from the consequences.

>> We hope you like the idea of having the freedom to work on projects you are really passionate about - we have a unique approach to the way we work to help our customers sleep at night.

>>On our planet, we’ve thrown out conventional structures, frameworks and hierarchies.

>>Freedomville is a city that harnesses talent, encourages creativity and promotes professionalism. All doors are open, all ideas are welcome and all
projects are outcome focused.

>> We’re not perfect but change starts with a conversation, engagement and dedication.


perry-timms_1's picture

I'd love to be responsible for "busting the hierarchies" Keith - so I'm with you on this - no need to say anymore!