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Is Collaboration Limited by Organizational Structure?

Posted on by Brandon Klein

We have found some easy fixes (employee social streams), and discovered devilishly difficult challenges (aligned and coordinated, but still autonomous action and decision-making, or convincing boards of directors that sometimes employees and customers need to precede shareholder value).

The recent announcement by Zappos that it was changing its organizational structure to a “holacracy” suggests that forward-thinking companies are taking it all very seriously. They recognize the emerging proof that a more collaborative organization is a more profitable one.

What does this mean for the rest of us? Can big, hierarchical, traditional organizations — especially public ones — change? Should they? How can we make this happen? Command and control is now only one of several recognized models of leadership and organizational design. Alternatives are no longer fringe ideas, but increasingly mainstream.

Organizational design has a huge impact on decision-making and collaboration, and both reflects, and often creates, the level of collaboration and autonomy with and amongst the workforce. Culture may eat strategy for lunch but decision-making, reporting and budgeting structures can either birth or strangle both culture and strategy with both hands tied behind its back.

At this stage we have four primary organizational models along a continuum from command and control to cooperative and anarchic. From GM to Valve we might call it, with a Basecamp and a Zappos thrown in to complete the picture. Each has strengths and weaknesses.