Chairman Ed

Connecting people, ideas and processes

Tag Archives: hierarchies

Hybrid Organizations – Part Hierarch, Part Network

It has been my observation that when society transitions from one set of concepts to another we often use hybrid, or bridging, concepts to help us in that transition. For example, we currently are talking about e-books, which are a hybrid of something old, “books”, and something new, “electronic”. We know we’re inventing something new here, but we don’t know what it is going to look like yet.

 

What I’m calling a hybrid organization is a similar bridging concept, like my hybrid car. My hybrid car is a step toward an electric/electronic vehicle – an e-vehicle. How, and if, we get to fully electric vehicles and the  infrastructure necessary to support them is still undefined, but many people are bringing forth their ideas and products as steps to create a more concrete definition.

 

I believe we are in a similar process in terms of creating network organizations. Many people are working on the Internet tools that can become the infrastructure for supporting network relationships and organizations. Social networks are a part of this process.

 

One of my beliefs about the value of a network organization over a hierarchy is that it can scale to larger size. In an era of increasing globalization we will need organizations of sufficient size to span the globe and potentially have millions of people involved in the organization. Hierarchies with their need to add additional levels as they increase in size become less responsive, because things have to move through channels or chain of command, which continues to lengthen.  Go back to my Shaky Pyramid post and think about what that diagram looks like as you keep on adding more layers.

 

In terms of scaling think about Facebook. It currently handles something in excess of 750 million users. To support all those users it has about 2000 staff members, or one staff member for each 375,000 users. Now imagine that every one of those users was part of the same organization and not simply using the system for chitchat. What if instead of Facebook it was “No Book University” with a global learning community of 750 million people?

 

Perhaps in that light, we could see Facebook as a hybrid organization, a small hierarchy that creates and manages the infrastructure and a very large network organization of learners, facilitators and teachers. Can you imagine that scale of a learning organization with these tools? Now try imagining what the organization chart would look like for a hierarchical organization that might have that same scale. Do you think it’s possible for a hierarchy to function at that scale?

The Shaky Pyramid of the Hierarchical Organization

Looking at the Hierarchical Organization from the Outside

When I first started to learn about, and think about, alternative organizational forms, one of my explorations was to have an artist produce some images that I used in public presentations. This is one of illustrations which the artist generated, and that got me thinking about the hierarchical organizations that I had worked within.

 

The guy at the top has a great view. He can see further out than anyone else, but his head can be in the clouds. He really needs to keep everybody else in line or his position is at risk. The folks at the bottom are well grounded, but have very little freedom. If they should all decide to leave at once, the pyramid is in jeopardy, which is why unions are so powerful, sometimes.

 

Some people look like they can only deal internally with others in the pyramid, while others might be able to see or communicate with people outside the pyramid. Moving forward is a real challenge of coordination otherwise things could get very shaky.

 

What other thoughts does this illustration generate for you, based on your experience in hierarchical organizations?