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Pyramids Belong in Egypt, Not in Your Business

Pyramid vs Network

In a Corporate Rebels blog post, the authors offer an alternative to the outdated “command-and-control” organizational model that was designed more than a century ago for a work world that no longer exists. A transition from hierarchical pyramids to a network of teams is one of the most important findings in their research of progressive, next-stage businesses.

Highlights from the Article

We need to tear down the barriers that once made organizations efficient but are now slowing them down. Replacing the old hierarchical organizational chart with a flexible network of teams has the potential to significantly increase employee engagement and lead to business success.

More and more organizations are embracing a new way of organizing. Often, traditional hierarchies are replaced with structures that aim to distribute authority and autonomy to individuals and teams. Self-organizing teams form around market-driven priorities and collaborate through internal networks. This is a more agile and responsive way or organizing which allows individuals to gather as members of multiple teams within multiple contexts.

How a Network of Teams Works

Small Multidisciplinary Teams. The ideal team size seems to be between 10 and 15 for most organizations. There must be a diverse skill set available within each team to perform all the necessary tasks which makes the teams highly multidisciplinary. Tasks and responsibilities are evenly divided and based on talents and interests, not on job description or position.

Connected Teams within a Decentralized Structure. Teams are granted lots of operational autonomy within a decentralized structure. The teams, set up like mini businesses, have complete self-control over most aspects of their business and often even over their own profit and loss. They make their own decisions about things as hiring, on-boarding, lay offs, R&D, production, marketing and sales. One caveat: whatever they do, it should always be in coherence with the purpose and values of the “network” or organization in which they operate. Teams connect via technology to communicate, share important information, and learn from each other.

Team Alignment around Organizational Purpose. The network of teams are all designed around a clear purpose and a set of core values of the organization. A clear sense of a common purpose keeps the network connected and provides guidance and direction for individuals and teams. It’s like the north star that guides and inspires teams on their mission to success. However, each team has its own clear focus on one particular thing that distinguishes them from other teams. This thing can be anything like a certain client, (niche) market, product, services, technology, area, or country. When someone within the organization spots a new opportunity, this person is encouraged to create a new team around him or her. Once they have succeeded in setting up a new team, the team has the autonomy to explore and exploit this opportunity.

Teams are Dynamic. Within a network of teams, teams are fully responsible for their own results. In most cases, they benefit when their team is doing well but also feel the pain when teams are under performing. When a team is responsible for its own business, and business is not going well, teams can be dissolved. The people either find a new team to join, get others to join their new team, or leave the company.

Benefits of the Network of Teams Approach

There are a number of reasons why this approach is successful:

  • It breaks down silos. All needed tasks and responsibilities lie within the teams themselves.

  • It creates a strong sense of ownership as team members are fully responsible for their own results.

  • Employees feel like they run a ‘business’. They don’t focus on a single part like sales, purchasing, or production. It therefore significantly increases entrepreneurship.

  • A healthy dose of peer pressure arises between the teams.

  • Teams can quickly adapt and respond to changing customer needs. They don’t need to wait for slow top-down change programs.

  • The increased autonomy level leads to an increased engagement level.

The Gifted Perspective

The workplace as we know it is in flux. The impact of advances in technology and the accelerating pace of change are conspiring to disrupt how we work. We agree with Mary Jo Kaplan’s observation that “many organizations are stuck in antiquated structures that impede rather than enable employees to bring their best selves to work.”

In her article in the Stanford Social Innovation Review, she insightfully points out that, “Hierarchy is a vestige of industrial manufacturing, designed more than 100 years ago to parse work into mundane tasks to maximize productivity. The metaphor for organizations based on this model was a well-oiled machine, and people were cogs in the wheel. Management became a professional role to control work and workers. A consequence of powerful management has been passive employees.”

Read that last sentence again! We see this scenario all the time. Managers frequently complain about complacent employees but don’t connect the dots to see that this kind of behavior is the natural result of the parent-child paradigm of managing that we’ve all grown accustomed to.

Building a powerful network of teams is an alternate path forward that can unleash the latent potential in your people and in your business. Making the shift isn’t necessarily easy and it will require a significant change in the way your organization is run AND … it will be worth the effort.

We will partner with you to coach, consult, support, and encourage you through the change process. Contact us today about individual leadership coaching or our Teams That Talk™ coaching approach!


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