Shapes, Guides, Decides: on Structure

In leadership we are starting to see the need to pull apart our obsession with jobs. We are realising that what matters more than a job is the roles that leaders play and their authority to play them.

A similar need exists in the structures we form from those jobs. In organisational design, we have a tendency to focus overly on structure as if it is the determinant of how the organisation functions.
The structure of an organisation is important. However, we know that all structures perform in different ways because of the networks of relationships that weave through them and the resulting culture that is created.
A focus on structure can be of little value to a manager looking to respond practically to the challenges of a networked economy. That manager often well knows that while changing structure can require as little as a new powerpoint slide, but the way things get done changes far less frequently and with a great deal more difficulty
  • Structure: A collection of status relationships between individuals. Shapes
  • Decision Process: The commonly accepted series of stages by which decisions are made in the organisation, including what information is expected, who is aware, who participates and who is consulted. Guides
  • Decision Rights: Who & how the final call gets made on any decision. Decides 

Structure influences decision processes and decision rights. However structure does not determine them and at times can work at cross purposes to the intended goals of the organisation. You can have a hierarchy where decision rights are delegated and there is a high level of autonomy. You can have a network that is paralysed by an insistence on consensus before anyone acts on a decision. 

The process used for decisions and what exercise of decision rights are accepted in an organisation is a function of the network of relationships more than the structure. Control by structure is often an illusion.

We need to spend less time focused on our structures and spend more time on how our relationships work and how we make choices.

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