The Network Always Subverts the Hierarchy

Human relationships are flexible and driven by shared information, influence, trust and other personal dynamics. These dynamic relationships will subvert any formal fixed hierarchical relationships.

We see the fixed relationships of the hierarchy. We obsess about their nominal power. What we don’t see is how the network wins slowly through human relationships. Networks of information, influence and trust shape how the hierarchy behaves:

  • Want a positive decision from the CEO? You know who to lobby to influence his or her opinion.
  • Want to know why some customers can get what they want? Look for their networks and connections into your organisation and into competitors.
  • Why do all employee emails leak within minutes? Look for the gossips and informal relationships outside the organisation.
  • Want to know why some are promoted over others? Look for the networks of previous experiences, trusted relationships and reputation helping careers along.

As soon as a new hierarchy is created or control processes are tightened, human nature starts subverting its effect in the name of relationships of information, trust and influence. The rational slowly yields to the relational. The network wins in the end because it leverages the human social process of decision making. 

Fighting the influence of networks makes life less human. Embrace them as a part of any hierarchy.

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