Is the Org-Structure Dead?

A blog by Martin Erasmuson.

Great article by Alina Dizik which has some noteworthy implications for organisations and their values and approaches to successfully engaging with a complex and fast-moving business environment.  Dizik suggests: “[people] need to shift from thinking about jobs and careers to thinking about challenges and problems.”  Just semantics?  Many organisations and their Leaderships Team get caught up in roles, job descriptions and reporting lines; the organisational structure.  And we all know of organisations that seem to be constantly rearranging the deckchairs with yet another restructure.  Over 2,000 years ago that famous Roman Gaius Petronius Arbiter’s (27 – 66 AD) famously summed up such activities "We trained hard, but it seemed that every time we were beginning to form up into teams, we would be reorganized. I was to learn later in life that we tend to meet any new situation by reorganizing; and a wonderful method it can be for creating the illusion of progress while producing confusion, inefficiency, and demoralization."

Whatever Arbiter based his account on, today the numbers are in and they are not good.  In his blog, Clemmer Group founder Jim Clemmer suggests that ‘with all organization change efforts the failure rate is 50 – 70 percent’.  So why the fixation on the org-chart, the reporting-lines which is a simplistic model of just one of the dimensions that represent an organisations DNA?

Every contemporary organization is multi-dimensional comprising four domain-specific elements.  Certainly, one of those is that people-dimension or HR comprising functional and project teams.  Then the mostly understood dimensions of Business Processes and Enterprise IT Architecture.  Finally, there is the least understood and seemingly least-valued dimension; information. 

These four dimensions or domains interact to produce business outcomes (for Public Sector Organisations their reason for existing), or for the Private Sector, products and services that people want to buy.  Those interactions occur in every possible combination; one:one; many:one; one:many and many:many. 

To propose that a 2D org-chart is somehow representative of how an organisation works is somewhat naïve and out of touch with how an organisation works in practice.

On one level, we understand we are operating in an increasingly dynamic business environment.  Indeed, we seem comfortable with continually adding-to, changing, removing, ‘tweaking’ three of those four organisational dimensions; information, process and technology elements to meet those constantly changing business needs; but get stuck on organisation structure.  That requires the classic ‘restructure’ (see Gaius Petronius Arbiter et al).  Why is that?  Why can’t the way we organise people be as agile and adaptive as those other three elements? 

Is it that we are reluctant-innovators?  The flip-side to all the stories of human innovation through the ages.  Will we only ‘adapt’ when circumstances are thrust upon us?  By way of example the picture at right is of 5th Avenue New York City in 1900. There is just one automobile surrounded by horse-drawn transport. 


In this next photo, taken just 13 years later in 1913, just one horse surrounded by cars. Hardly anyone saw that change coming but everyone, for the most part, adapted.  How do we drive that adaption?  Or what is stopping it?  It has a lot to do with the ‘Command and Control’ leadership model that remains pervasive throughout many organisations.  A key limitation of this model is the time it takes for an organisation to identify what is happening, for that to feed its way up the food-chain, Executive-Team to make a decision, and for that to go back down through the chain of command.  If we add to that the serious ‘Information-Gating’ challenges most organisations face i.e. processes for identifying what information to pay attention to and what to ignore (see my blog here), an organisation and its people are severely constrained to cope and prosper in the modern age.

In her article Alina Dizik offers some insight for the individual, suggesting we will or should be “constantly adding skills” that will see us regularly changing between a number of project and BAU activities with futurists and human resource executives say that our work lives will consist of doing several long-term projects or tasks at once.  “Instead of identifying your job role or description, you [will be] constantly adding skills based on what is going to make you more employable,” says Jeanne Meister, New York-based co-author of The Future Workplace Experience.

For organisations and their Executive, it’s about people-centred leadership that encouragements spontaneous and solutions-oriented creativity of your people and their interaction and interdependence with those other three organisational domains; technology, processes and information.  It is also about modelling those organisational domains, which is what we do at StratSim.

Go to: