Hierarchies Can Enhance Trust

These days, smart and humble people know that flatter is more better, networked holocracies are the new bestest way to generate business utopia, and all hierarchies are bureaucratic soul-sucking entities.

That’s the narrative.  And it’s crap.

I’m not here to defend the most common iteration of the corporate hierarchy overridden with excess layers, unclear accountabilities, and confusing matrices.  I am saying that a group of people working together for a common purpose will naturally adopt a hierarchy and there are reliably identifiable characteristics of hierarchies that are most likely to generate the best outcomes.

We’re talking about laws of nature that show up in any human dynamics situation.

The management hierarchy — in its pure form, almost never fully achieved in practice — evolved as a natural vehicle for expressing the capabilities and limits that are innate in each of us as Homo sapiens.

from Elliott Jaques Levels With You. By Art Kleiner

Elliott Jaques describes a right-designed hierarchy as one that
  1. People can trust each other to work together in an honest and straightforward manner.
  2. People can use their personal capabilities to the full, both personally and on behalf of the business.

Imagine that!  Feeling fully challenged in our own work because our role uses all of us but not more than we have. Feeling secure in the knowledge that our manager can offer us the context we need to proceed when we hit a block.

If everyone in your business had those two things working for them, then the need for politics and other forms of straining against a dysfunctional org design would be a lot less.

We all have worked in businesses in which the hierarchy isn’t aligned with natural laws.  We feel it.  We sense it. We despise it.  Very few people know how to fix it.

Wouldn’t you like your business to work with the laws of nature instead of against them?

Me too!

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