When you want to know who does what in a company, there is a very simple way: look at its organization chart. It explains in a precise way what is the function of each person, who does what, who works with whom. Impossible to be any clearer, more transparent, and therefore efficient.
As we have seen, in our daily lives it is totally the opposite: there are people who have requests, needs, questions, people who do and act alone or by coordinating with each other or putting people who did not know each other before in contact.
The org chart is an illusion
After all, it’s only logical: the company must have a formal and organized structure, otherwise it won’t work. What counts is not the need or the objective of each individual but the group’s (or at least the company’s) needs. On the outside we are in the adhoc and affinity because there is no obligation of result, so we can do things in a more freeform way.
Except the reality is more complex.
You don’t need to know much about organizations to see this: using the organizational chart to know who to talk to doesn’t help much and following it often leads to slowing down or even jeopardizing the company’s operations. Why is this? Because the company does not work in the way its organizational chart suggests.
The organisation of work does not follow the hierarchy
Today, no matter what it produces, all or part of a company’s production no longer requires hyper-specialisation but, on the contrary, collaboration between a variety of expertise. And by definition, to find various areas of expertise, it is necessary to look for them at different points in the organization chart that are not supposed to speak to each other “officially”.
This is a no-brainer and even (and especially) for companies that have multiplied formal or informal structures to adapt to their real operational needs.
This is one of the reasons for the existence of the famous matrix organizations that try to respond to the dual challenge of a hierarchical and operational reporting line. But most often they function badly and are very badly lived in terms of employee experience due to an imbalance of power between hierarchy and operations (to the benefit of the former) which creates paradoxical injunctions that are often impossible for the employee to manage. And sometimes they do not have 2 but 3, 4 or even more reporting lines.
Without going as far as the matrix, it is common to set up transversal project groups which are more provisional structures. But here again, their effectiveness is linked to the fact that the hierarchy sometimes forgets to keep a light touch and that its weight cancels out any desire for transversality.
The company therefore tries to organize a formal, cross-functional collaboration, but the reality in the field is that its implementation is often a burden because of the complications it entails.
The difficulty of informal collaboration
But not everything can be anticipated. Not everything is a beautiful project that is anticipated, planned, with a beginning, an end, and fully or partially allocated resources.
Sometimes it is necessary to organize in an adhoc, temporary way, for a very short period of time. The initiative comes from the employee or the manager, but not from the company. This leads to two major points of friction.
The first is that the company is not made to operate in this way and does not tolerate it well. Finally, to be precise, it understands its usefulness but its systems refuse it. Hierarchy (again!), allocation of resources (you are paid for that, not to help so and so on a project I don’t care about from my silo), it’s hard to get out of this good old system inherited from the industrial era and which consists in replicating perfection to infinity and eliminating all gaps…in a world that is made of gaps and requires micro adjustments in real time.
The second is even the first in the order of things: identifying the person or persons to be mobilized. There is nothing more difficult to identify a person on the basis of his or her skills, current and especially in previous experience. The job title will not help you to do this: it will hardly give you any presumptions, but a generally generic title does not give information on specialized knowledge and excludes all people who have the knowledge but do not occupy a position where it is valued.
Translated with www.DeepL.com/It is this informal collaboration, or emerging collaboration, that we have been trying to foster for a long time, one of the latest forms of initiatives in this area being the corporate social network with the relative success that we know. But all this was predictable: believing that you can solve organizational or even human problems with technology is doomed to failure. Or to put it another way: the system always triumphs over the individual.
In short, we come to the following situation although I disagree with the difference between “how things were” and “how things are”: today things are juxtaposed and struggle to work together. On the other hand, we know very well that what works is not implemented.
Organizations vs the real life
At the beginning of containment we created a whatsapp group with the residents of my building. We use it to pass on information (what bakery is open in the neighbourhood today, who to contact to treat a child with a dental abscess), to provide services (I go shopping I can do for others, who can help me unblock my shower or fix my fridge that broke down), or even to make sure everything is OK (we don’t hear from so-and-so anymore, does anyone know how they are doing?).
It is well understood that one day a person is the principal (who can go shopping for me?) and the next day the executor (I come to help you unblock your shower) then the connector (for this problem ask someone you don’t know but that I introduce you).
By applying the corporate model, we would all go shopping for the 6th floor, the kid on the 4th floor would never have been treated and the shower on the 1st floor would never have been unblocked.
The rules and their correct application are the responsibility of the owners council and remain so in both models…but on a daily basis this is not what makes the collective work and the two cohabit perfectly.
Hierarchy is a matter of responsibility, not execution.
It is therefore easy to condemn the excessive weight of the hierarchy, which serves no purpose and prevents everyone from being effective. This is going a bit too fast because in fact we have two systems that coexist and each has its own usefulness.
Hierarchy and the organization chart that materializes it is how we decide and, above all, how we assume responsibilities. For a company it is vital, in our personal lives we can do without it. I would even go so far as to say that sometimes it leads us to assume things we haven’t decided, precisely because of the intertwining of models. But a company must have people in charge and people who take responsibility, the myth of collective decision making being just a bad idea because when everyone is responsible no one is. It’s also how you silo budgets and therefore the allocation of resources.
The rest, the cross-cutting structures and formal and informal networks, is how we really work.
The real problem is the articulation between the two and especially the prevalence of one over the other that prevents things from being done properly. We are still a long way from “wirearchy“.
There is also a cultural dimension which means that some people only want to see the hierarchical model, which they control and gives them power, and not what is moving and not under their control. We see the impact of this on the compartmentalization of information and organization.
An employee experience that turns into schizophrenia
However, for the employee, the formal structure of the company does not correspond to the one in which he or she works and still does not correspond to the one that would be useful to him or her. Worse, he often has to play several roles at the same time.
- Communication slowed down or even made impossible.
- Inability to identify and mobilize the people you need.
- Slow operations.
- Paradoxical injunctions and contradictory indicators.
- Unclear missions.
- Lack of recognition for the “invisible” part of the work, sometimes the most useful or indispensable.
Here again, we are talking about frictions that are felt at the level of the employee but are only indicators of dysfunctional organization and therefore it would be counterproductive to see only from the point of view of comfort or complaint in the face of difficulty.
Proof, once again, that the employee experience relates to the work context before it relates to well-being or happiness at work and that, contrary to what we still hear, it is not a question of removing these frictions so that the employee can behave at work as well as outside, but of ensuring that the company adopts what has proven to be effective outside but has never succeeded in doing because it took the question by the wrong end.
When employees leave the world of large companies to join medium-sized ones or startups, they often cite “the possibility of making an impact” as the reason. This does not only mean “lighter structures” but simply the possibility to do one’s job without fighting against one’s own organisation.