McKinsey Quarterly has an article in their May edition – “Preparing your organization for growth” – that yet again reminds me about the total inability to ask the right question. Or question any assumptions at all.
If you live in a small apartment with one bedroom and your wife becomes pregnant with triplets, what will you do? Will you assume that the apartment is where you will have to live forever and set up a wall in the bedroom to make two bedrooms, or four? Or would you ask yourself “maybe we should look for a bigger apartment?”.
If you’re in a hurry do you assume that bus is the only means of transportation, jump on it, then proceed to pester the driver to drive faster, or do you take the car?
Management “experts” would partition the bedroom into four and pester the driver.
Their first question should have been: What is the organisational structure for?
It has only one single purpose: Be a framework for workflows. Basically a conduit for information, it be tasks, reports or whatever other information you need to create value in an effective manner.
So why are nobody asking the obvious question? Are there alternatives to the workflow framework? Are there other ways of distributing tasks and information?
I assume it’s a bit how we face death; we do not know of any alternative (OK, some religions purport to have a solution long term) so we do not wake up in the morning thinking “ouch, I will die one day, must do something about it”.
But the way of running a business is less immutable than a certain death, so why on earth not give it a thought at least? After all, unless somebody challenges the “truth” that organisational structures is the only alternative to make workflows happen effectively, well then, nobody will spend a second on finding an alternative! A self-fulfilling prophecy if there ever was one!
But Hugh knows what might be the problem!
[Disclosure: This is exactly what we at Thingamy are working on, a framework for Barely Repeatable Processes, typical workflows in other words. And yes, strictly speaking, an organisation structure is not needed, the participants can self-organise nicely with the right underlying tool.]