Blog: Simply Organizing

Organizing like a Cow

16 February 2019

This is one of the stories from my new book, a collection of my TWOGs, entitled Bedtime Stories for Managers

                                                          (diagram from Socket Software)

This bedtime story may seem to be over the moon. It is not! To pick up on an ad that appeared some years ago for a major software company, the drawing above is not a cow. It’s a chart of a cow—its parts. In a healthy cow, these parts don’t even know that they are parts; they just work together harmoniously. So, would you like your organization to work like a chart? Or like a cow?

This is one of the stories from my new book, a collection of my TWOGs, entitled Bedtime Stories for Managers

                                                          (diagram from Socket Software)

This bedtime story may seem to be over the moon. It is not! To pick up on an ad that appeared some years ago for a major software company, the drawing above is not a cow. It’s a chart of a cow—its parts. In a healthy cow, these parts don’t even know that they are parts; they just work together harmoniously. So, would you like your organization to work like a chart? Or like a cow?

This is a serious question. Ponder it. Cows have no trouble working like cows. Nor, for that matter, does each of us, physiologically at least. So why do we have so much trouble working together socially? Are we that confused about organizing, for example, all this obsession with charts?

I discuss this cow in our International Masters Program for Managers (IMPM.org). One time, in the module we hold in India, while crossing the bustling streets of Bangalore, the managers experienced another story about cows. As recounted to me by Dora Koop, a colleague at McGill: “The first day we were told that when we crossed the street in India we had to ‘walk like a cow.’ The whole group had to stay together, and we were warned not to do anything unexpected. So we just moved slowly across the street and the traffic went around us. Throughout the whole program, people used this cow metaphor [recalling the other one, about working like a cow].”

Picture this: a mass of people, all as one, advancing steadily and cooperatively through what looks like chaos. Now imagine the people of your organization advancing steadily and cooperatively through what looks like its own chaos.

In walking like a cow, we have an answer to working like a cow: it’s about walking and working together. Beyond the sacred cow of leadership lies the idea of communityship, a word I made up to put leadership in its place.

© Henry Mintzberg 2019. For more metaphors, and sweeter dreams, please order your own copy of Bedtime Stories for ManagersThis particular story first appeared on 15 December 2015, as “Working like a cow by walking like a cow.” 

 

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Communityship beyond Leadership

18 November 2018

A story from my forthcoming book Bedtime Stories for Managers

Say organization and we see leadership. That’s why those charts are so ubiquitous. They show us who sits on top of whom, but not who talks with whom, when, and about what. Why are we so fixated on formal authority? Is there no more to organizing than bossing? Have a look at Figure 1 to see an Organization. Then look at Figure 2 to see a Re-organization.

Figure 1: This is an Organization

Figure 2: This is a Re-organization

A story from my forthcoming book Bedtime Stories for Managers

Say organization and we see leadership. That’s why those charts are so ubiquitous. They show us who sits on top of whom, but not who talks with whom, when, and about what. Why are we so fixated on formal authority? Is there no more to organizing than bossing? Have a look at Figure 1 to see an Organization. Then look at Figure 2 to see a Re-organization.

Figure 1: This is an Organization

Figure 2: This is a Re-organization

Did you notice the difference? A few names were changed in a few boxes, but the chart—the very perception of organization—remained the same. Do you know why re-organizing is so popular? Because it’s so easy. Shuffle people on paper and the world is transformed—at least on that paper. Imagine, instead, if people were shuffled around offices, to make new connections?

Say leadership and we see an individual—even if that individual is determined to "empower" everyone else. (Must people who are hired to do a job have to be empowered to do that job?) Too often, however, it’s about something else: a great white knight riding in on a great white horse to save everybody else (even when headed straight into a black hole). If one individual is the leader, then everyone else must be a follower. Do we really want a world of followers?

Think of the established organizations that you admire most. I’ll bet that beyond leadership is a profound sense of communityship. (Never heard that word? I made it up1, to put leadership in its place, namely to support communityship.) Effective organizations are communities of human beings, not collections of human resources.

How can you recognize communityship in an organization? That’s easy. You feel the energy in the place, the commitment of its people, their collective interest in what they do. They don’t have to be formally empowered because they are naturally engaged. They respect the organization because the organization respects them. No fear of being fired because some “leader” hasn’t made the anticipated numbers on some bottom line. Imagine a whole world of such organizations!

Sure we need leadership, especially to establish communityship in new organizations and help sustain it in established organiations. What we don’t need is an obsession with leadership—of some individual singled out from the rest, as if he or she is the be-all and end-all of organizing (and is paid accordingly). So here’s to just enough leadership, embedded in communityship.

 

© Henry Mintzberg 2018. Modified from “Organizing beyond Leadership”, to appear in Bedtime Stories for Managers (Berrett-Koehler, February 2019). A similar TWOG appeared on 15 February 2015.

Follow this TWOG on Twitter @mintzberg141, or receive the blogs directly in your inbox by subscribing here. To help disseminate these blogs, we also have a Facebook page and a LinkedIn page.

Photos from the author’s collection of beaver sculptures.

________________________________

1 I first wrote about this in 2006 and again in 2009: “Community-ship is the answer” Financial Times, 23 Oct 2006, page 8, and “Rebuilding Companies as Communities” Harvard Business Review, July/August 2009, pages 140-143.

Manageable and Unmanageable Managing

28 July 2018

Imagine managing cheese products in India for a global food company, or running a general hospital in Montreal under the Quebec Medicare system. Sounds pretty straightforward, right?

Now imagine that you have sold so much cheese in India that the company asks you to manage cheese for all of Asia. Or in Montreal, you did so well in the hospital that the government asks you to manage a community clinic too—to go back and forth between the two, or stay in an office somewhere and shoot off emails.

Imagine managing cheese products in India for a global food company, or running a general hospital in Montreal under the Quebec Medicare system. Sounds pretty straightforward, right?

Now imagine that you have sold so much cheese in India that the company asks you to manage cheese for all of Asia. Or in Montreal, you did so well in the hospital that the government asks you to manage a community clinic too—to go back and forth between the two, or stay in an office somewhere and shoot off emails.

When reorganizing health care services in Quebec, in one region the government actually went nine times worse: it designated one managerial position for nine different institutions: a hospital, community clinic, rehabilitation center, palliative care unit, and various social services. Gone were the nine managers who headed up each of these institutions, replaced by a single individual to manage the whole works. Think of the money this saved! Think of the chaos that ensued!

Unmanageable Managing   Some managerial jobs are rather natural and others are not. Cheese in India sounds OK, but cheese in Asia? One health care institution sure, but two together (actually apart), let alone nine?

Why do we tolerate unmanageable managerial jobs? Years ago, conglomerates were all the rage among corporations. If you knew management, you could manage all kinds of businesses together—say a filmmaking studio with a nuclear reactor and a chain of toenail salons. That era passed, thankfully, only to be replaced by internal conglomeration. Now it’s fashionable for managers to manage perplexing mixtures of activities within the same business.

This happens because drawing charts is so much easier than managing organizations. All you need is The Great Organizer sitting in an office somewhere (a) clustering various activities together on a chart, (b) drawing a box around each cluster, (c) designating a lucid label for every box (“Cheese in Asia”, “Health and Social Services Centers” in Quebec), (d) drawing a line from every box to the boss, and (e) emailing the tidy result to all concerned—and condemned. What could be simpler than this? Or more complicated?

That Box Called Asia   They eat a lot of cheese in India, but hardly any in Japan. What in the world is “Asia” anyway? Any continent that contains both India and Japan can’t be serious. No two countries are more different.

Have a look at a map of the world. Geographically at least, most of the continents look coherent, all surrounded by seas: Africa, North and South America, and especially Antarctica, even Australia. But how did Asia get in there—no sea to the east—and Europe—no sea to the west? That’s because the Europeans designated the continents in the first place, and how could they leave themselves out, let alone be lumped into Eurasia (Japan? India?), even if that is what the maps indicated? So they drew a line between Europe and Asia, with no sea in sight. Not quite in the sand, mind you: along a range of mountains. (By this logic, Chile should be a continent.) These mapmakers simply sliced Russia in two, to fabricate where Europe ends and Asia begins.

People who used to make such maps now draw organization charts.

The most dangerous manager   Let’s get back to business. You are managing cheese in Asia, except that people in some parts of Asia eat lots of cheese and others don’t. How can you manage that, especially when the person who took your old job is already managing cheese in India perfectly well, thank you, where you have most of your sales?

If you’re smart, you won’t even try. But that won’t get you a promotion—say to become the Big Cheese for all of Asia: kimchi, harissa, and poutine, alongsde cheese without the fries. So manage cheese in Asia you must.  

And that is when the problems begin: Please understand that there is nothing more dangerous than a manager with nothing to do. Managers are energetic people—that‘s one reason they got to be managers. Put one into an unnatural position and he or she will find something to do. Like organizing retreats where the cheese managers from India, Japan, Outer Mongolia, and inner Indonesia can search for “synergies”—ways to help each other sell product that people don’t eat.

Meanwhile, it’s boring to sit in the regional head office in Singapore (the center of the Asian non-continent), so into an airplane goes our energetic manager. Not to meddle, mind you: micro-managing is out of fashion. Just to have a look. “I’m the boss, in charge of cheese for Asia,” you say, hovering over the manager in charge of cheese for Japan. “Thought I would drop by, you know, just to say hello. But while I’m here, let me ask you a few innocent questions: How come cheese is not moving in Japan? Isn’t the job of a business to create a customer? They eat Korean kimchi here, don’t they, just like they eat Indian chutneys in London? So why not Gorgonzola in the Ginza?”

Organizing beyond the Boxes    A hospital all in one place is manageable—at least as manageable as a hospital can be. (To find out why not, read my book “Managing the Myths of Health Care”.) So is selling cheese in India. But beyond that, expecting someone somewhere to manage something because someone elsewhere drew a box on a chart isn’t necessarily manageable at all. Surely we can organize ourselves outside the boxes.

 

© Henry Mintzberg 2018. An earlier version of this appeared in my TWOG of 28 January 2016. This one will be part of my forthcoming book Bedtime Stories for Managers (Berrett-Koehler, January 2019).

Ye gods: an efficient orchestra!

2 June 2018

A young, enthusiastic MBA student was finally given the opportunity to apply his learning. He was asked to carry out a survey of a group with which he was not normally familiar and submit recommendations as to how its efficiency could be increased. He selected as his target a symphony orchestra. Having read up on the tools of the trade, he attended his first concert and submitted the following analysis:

A young, enthusiastic MBA student was finally given the opportunity to apply his learning. He was asked to carry out a survey of a group with which he was not normally familiar and submit recommendations as to how its efficiency could be increased. He selected as his target a symphony orchestra. Having read up on the tools of the trade, he attended his first concert and submitted the following analysis:

  1. For considerable periods, the four oboe players had nothing to do. The number of oboes should therefore be reduced, and the work spread more evenly over the whole concert program, thus eliminating the peaks and valleys of activity.
  2. All twenty violins were playing identical notes. This would seem to be an unnecessary duplication, so the staff of this section should be cut drastically.
  3. Obsolescence of equipment is another matter warranting further investigation. The program noted that the leading violinist’s instrument was several hundred years old. Now, if normal depreciation schedules had been applied, the value of this instrument would have been reduced to zero and the purchase of more modern equipment recommended long ago.
  4. Much effort was absorbed in the playing of demisemiquavers, which seems to be an unnecessary refinement. It is recommended that all notes be rounded up to the nearest semiquaver. If this were done, it would be possible to use trainees and lower-grade operatives more extensively.
  5. Finally, there seemed to be too much repetition of some of the musical passages. Therefore, scores should be pruned to a considerable extent. No useful purpose is served by repeating on the horns something that has already been handled by the strings. It is estimated that, if all redundant passages were eliminated, the whole concert time of two hours could be reduced to twenty minutes and there would be no need for an intermission.

If this student had instead chosen to study a factory, nobody would be laughing, least of all the people in that factory. In other words, this is no laughing matter. (For a more serious take on why he got it wrong, see Species of Organizations. See also a TWOG on that dirty word efficiency.)

No ©  This was published more or less as above in the mid-1950s, in an American professor’s bulletin, a Canadian military journal, and Harper’s Magazine, based on an anonymous memorandum that circulated in London and was probably published originally in Her Majesty’s Treasury of the Courts. This TWOG appeared here on 21 April 2016.

Transformation from the top? How about engagement on the ground?

15 September 2017

The company has a new chief, with 100 days to show the stock market some quick wins. Not the usual wins: transformation is the game. Hurry up and reinvent the whole company.

But where to begin? That’s easy: at the “top”. Where else when there’s such pressure. Besides, any chief who has been to a business school or reads the business press knows that it’s all about leadership: the boss who does the thinking that drives everyone else. Louis XIV said “L'état, c'est moi!” Today’s corporate CEO says “The enterprise, that’s me!”

John Kotter has written the widespread word on transformation, at the Harvard Business School, where so many of the cases are about the chief.  Here is the Kotter model, in eight steps.

The company has a new chief, with 100 days to show the stock market some quick wins. Not the usual wins: transformation is the game. Hurry up and reinvent the whole company.

But where to begin? That’s easy: at the “top”. Where else when there’s such pressure. Besides, any chief who has been to a business school or reads the business press knows that it’s all about leadership: the boss who does the thinking that drives everyone else. Louis XIV said “L'état, c'est moi!” Today’s corporate CEO says “The enterprise, that’s me!”

John Kotter has written the widespread word on transformation, at the Harvard Business School, where so many of the cases are about the chief.  Here is the Kotter model, in eight steps.

1. Establish a sense of urgency.
2. Form a powerful guiding coalition.
3. Create a vision.
4. Communicate the vision.
5. Empower others to act on the vision.
6. Plan for and create short-term wins.
7. Consolidate improvements and produce still more change.
8. Institutionalize new approaches.

Please read this again, asking yourself, every step of the way, who does each? The chief. Beyond an inner circle, everyone else is there to pursue the vision, obediently. Indeed, the article states that “powerful individuals who resist the change effort” must be removed. What if they have good reason to resist? Can there be no debate, no discussion? Is the contemporary corporation the court of Louis XIV?

“Establish a sense of urgency”, to barrel ahead: the wolves of Wall Street are braying at the door. “A guiding coalition”—with “senior managers [always at] the core”—will “create a vision”: out of the thin air of the top? Is this any place to understand what’s happening on the ground? No wonder so many big companies can’t get past me-too strategies they call “visions”. Then “Communicate the vision” to that obedient staff on the ground—to continue with the clichés, by “empowering [them] to act on the vision”, as if people hired to do a job need permission to do it.

And keep those “short-term wins” coming with “still more change”—more and more and more change. Where is continuity in all this, given that change without continuity is anarchy? (Be careful of words like “transformation”, because change has to be about sustaining what’s good no less than changing what isn’t.) Finally, don’t forget to “institutionalize” the whole thing: after all, this is the holy writ. And whatever you do, and wherever you are, top or bottom, don’t learn, at least about the vision—that was finalized in Step 3.

If change is so good, how come such models of change hardly change? Kotter has been promoting essentially this one since 1995.  How about a change of perspective for a change: recognizing the top as a misguided metaphor that can distort behavior. Are the best strategies really formulated from on high, by looking down? Or do they form amidst the clutter of the real life of the organization: making products, providing services, attending to customers? Everyone deeply involved can think constructively, CEOs too, although sometimes the best thinking comes from unexpected sources, such as a worker who sews the seeds of a great new vision. Imagine that!

Actually, you don’t need to imagine that. Instead, consider this story from IKEA, about selling much of its furniture unassembled, so that customers can take it home in their cars, saving money for them and the company.  This powerful guiding vision transformed the IKEA business model as well as much of the furniture business. So where did it begin? With a worker. “Exploration of flat packaging begins when one of the first IKEA co-workers removes the legs of the LÖVET table so that it will fit into a car and avoid damage during transit” (from IKEA.com).

But someone had to come up with the key insight that “If we have to take the legs off, maybe our customers have to do so as well.” That needed to be someone on site, maybe that worker, or a foreman, perhaps even the CEO, since the best entrepreneurs spend much of their time on site. But if it was someone else, then this insight had to be conveyed to the chief so that he could sprinkle holy water on it. And this suggests an organization of open communication, throughout, not one fixated on tops and bottoms, where so many ideas like this get lost. In such an open organization, sustaining culture matters a lot more than transforming everything.

John Kotter acknowledges that major change can take years.  I asked someone in IKEA how long it took to develop this new business model fully. He said 15 years! Wait a minute: according to the stock market, you’re not supposed to do that. Why couldn’t they just get it done in 100 days? Please list all the furniture companies that succeeded by doing that.

So instead of a model of top-down transformation, how about a process of grounded engagement? I call it communityship: don’t look for the word in the dictionary, let alone at the top of any organization.  Here are a few basics of it—not steps, no order, non-linear, just a composite, like change itself.

Effective organizations are communities of engaged human beings, not collections of passive human resources. (I have used this sentence many times before, and will keep using it until it is taken seriously.) These organizations have no tops or bottoms, no “leader” who has to think for everyone else. Everyone is engaged; communityship is fundamentally indigenous.

Anyone can come up with a great idea for change.  Have you ever told a joke? Good, because you can change the world. Most jokes, and creative ideas, are just little switches. (See my blog on “The Extraordinary Power of Ordinary Creativity.”) Here’s an example: “I want to die like my grandfather died, quietly, in his sleep. Not like those other people in the car who died yelling and screaming.” The little switch: grandpa was not in bed after all. At IKEA, the little switch, the critical insight, was: “If we have to take the legs off…” Such little switches are no big deal, even if they can launch very big deals. I’ll bet that people who take that top seriously tell fewer jokes, or worse ones, than people whose feet are firmly planted on the ground. 

Communication is open, so that ideas get shared easily. With no top and bottom in communityship, people just connect, for the sake of progress. A fixed hierarchy gives way to flexible networks. That insight at IKEA must have made its way to a management that was listening all around, not looking down.

Strategies, whether as overall visions or market positions, emerge gradually from grounded learning; they are not immaculately conceived. Many of the greatest strategies really do form, rather than being formulated, in a process nurtured by an engaged management that cares, not a heroic leadership that cures. And this process is not primarily about doing competitive analyses, although these can sometimes help. It is about committed people prepared to learn their collective way to unexpected strategies, one switch at a time. (In the last paragraph of his article, Kotter notes that “In reality, even successful change efforts are messy and full of surprises.” This sentence belonged in the first paragraph, where it could have changed many of the other paragraphs.) Of course, there is the need to pull diverse insights together, which is usually overseen by a management that’s on top of what’s going on, not on top of a hierarchy.

One final point: Often companies turn to the fix of transformation after a spell of disconnection. Those companies that stay connected, through communityship, don’t need step-by-step fixes. So please, all you serious managers, professors, and pundits, come down to earth, symbolically and literally. Get a bit playful with your strategies and your jokes: you just might find that effective change balanced with continuity follows, naturally: No need for transformation!

© Henry Mintzberg 2017. Our International Masters Program for Managers (impm.org) focuses on communityship more than leadership and learning strategies more than planning strategy, by encouraging managers to engage, not pronounce.

Follow this TWOG on Twitter @mintzberg141, or receive the blogs directly in your inbox by subscribing here. To help disseminate these blogs, we also have a Facebook page and a LinkedIn page.

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¹Cases at the Harvard Business School “exaggerate the role of individual leaders. 62 per cent of cases feature heroic managers acting alone”, according to an internal HBS study. (Andrew Hill in his column in the Financial Times, “Harvard and its business school acolytes are due for a rethink”, 7 May 2017.)  

 ²Leading Change: Why Transformation Efforts Fail” Harvard Business Review (March-April 1995; reprinted January 2007; table below and quote following from the later version.

Dave Ulrich with colleagues, while involved with the GE WorkOut program around 1990, developed a similar model in steps, called the Change Acceleration Process (date reported to me in personal correspondence). In fact, the similarities are striking: Ulrich et al. listed “Seven Universal Principles for making change happen:1. Ensure leadership commitment, 2. Create a shared need, 3. Articulate a desired direction or vision, 4. Mobilize commitment, 5. Turn the long-term change into short-term decisions, 6. Institutionalize change. 7. Monitor progress and learn along the way.” (See Dave Ulrich, Mary Ann Von Glinow, Todd Jick, Arthur Yeung, and Steve Nason.  1993.  Learning Organization, Culture Change, and Competitiveness:  How Managers Can Build Learning Capability.  Monograph prepared for the International Consortium of Executive Development and Research. For the latest rendition: Dave Ulrich and Norm Smallwood.  2013.  Leadership Sustainability:  Seven disciplines to achieve the changes great leaders know they must make.  New York:  McGraw Hill.)

 ³Some words have changed, but not the steps or the tone. For example, Kotter International now writes of “Building” rather than “Forming a guiding coalition”. #5 has become “Remove obstacles”, albeit still to empower people to execute the vision, and #8 says “Anchor the changes in corporate culture”

 ⁴I first used the term in a Financial Times article titled “Community-ship is the answer” (23 October 2006).

Organizations around Public, Private, Plural

3 June 2016

In a recent TWOG where I described four basic forms of organizations (machine, entrepreneurial, professional, and project), I characterized our general understanding of organizations as primitive. We need much greater appreciation of the institutions that are so prominent in our lives, from our birth in hospitals through those where we learn, work, and play.

I have written frequently in these TWOGs about the three main sectors of society and the need for balance across them. Here I plot various types of organizations around a circle according to whether they function in the public sector (owned by government, for example agencies and ministries), the private sector (owned by founders or investors, as in widely-held corporations), or the plural sector (owned by members, as in cooperatives, or by no-one, as in NGOs). 

In a recent TWOG where I described four basic forms of organizations (machine, entrepreneurial, professional, and project), I characterized our general understanding of organizations as primitive. We need much greater appreciation of the institutions that are so prominent in our lives, from our birth in hospitals through those where we learn, work, and play.

I have written frequently in these TWOGs about the three main sectors of society and the need for balance across them. Here I plot various types of organizations around a circle according to whether they function in the public sector (owned by government, for example agencies and ministries), the private sector (owned by founders or investors, as in widely-held corporations), or the plural sector (owned by members, as in cooperatives, or by no-one, as in NGOs). 

For those of you using a wide screen, all of this can be seen on the one big circle above. If you are using a smaller screen, this big circle is broken down at the end into the three segments of public private, and plural for easier reading.

You will notice that the organization most typical of each sector is placed in the middle of it, while others are displayed to either side, depending on the extent that they tilt toward another sector. (For example, state-owned enterprises, such as power utilities, may be public, but because they function as businesses, are shown near the private sector. And because many family businesses exhibit a strong sense of community, as is typical in the plural sector, they are are shown near it.)

I make no claim that this circle includes all types of organizations. (I built it from all the notes I have been making for years about these different organizations.) Nor is the placement of these organizations tilting toward one sector or another indisputable, just suggestive. (There are, for example, family businesses that are rather mercenary, not community-oriented.) This framework may be rudimentary, but our understanding of organizations is far more rudimentary. We can use all the help we can get!

A couple of comments about all this: First, you see many more types under plural than under public or private. Of course that is why I call the sector plural! There are all kinds of businesses, but not so many distinct types. And while the range of activities in government is vast, the marching orders that come from being public limit their activities somewhat. The plural sector is the most varied of the three.

Second, the circle indicates that organizations fall into one sector or another. It shows only two hybrids. PPPs are one, namely public-private partnerships, although even these are shown as slanted toward the private sector, because that is where power tends to be these days. (The American “military-industrial complex” is probably the greatest PPP of all time.)  And communes (as well as kibbutzim) are shown as both public and plural, because they can be seen as municipal governments of a sort as well as distinct communities.1

The point, which I emphasize in my book Rebalancing Society, is that the three sectors are, and must remain, distinct as well as strong if our societies are to regain balance. Organizations belong in their place. B Corps may care about more than profit, but they are still businesses. And NGOs should no more be run like businesses than businesses should be run like NGOs. Likewise, the “New Public Management”, so reflective of old corporate values, has been doing a number on many governments for years (as I hope to discuss in next week’s TWOG).

© Henry Mintzberg 2016 Follow this TWOG on Twitter @mintzberg141, or receive the blogs directly in your inbox by subscribing hereTo help disseminate these blogs, we now also have a Facebook page and a LinkedIn.


1 Of course, a company like Volkswagen, owned by both governments and private shareholders, is technically a hybrid too, although the tendency here is to run such enterprises like regular businesses.

 

Ye gods: an efficient orchestra!

21 April 2016

Last week’s TWOG described four different species of organizations, and warned about mixing them up. This week’s TWOG provides a graphic example of doing just that: confusing a professional organization with a machine organization.

A young, enthusiastic MBA student was finally given the opportunity to apply his learning. He was asked to carry out a survey of an organization with which he was not normally familiar and submit recommendations as to how its efficiency could be increased. He selected as his target a symphony orchestra. Having read up on everything he had learned, he attended his first concert and submitted the following analysis:

Last week’s TWOG described four different species of organizations, and warned about mixing them up. This week’s TWOG provides a graphic example of doing just that: confusing a professional organization with a machine organization.

A young, enthusiastic MBA student was finally given the opportunity to apply his learning. He was asked to carry out a survey of an organization with which he was not normally familiar and submit recommendations as to how its efficiency could be increased. He selected as his target a symphony orchestra. Having read up on everything he had learned, he attended his first concert and submitted the following analysis:

a.  For considerable periods, the four oboe players had nothing to do. The number of oboes should therefore be reduced, and the work spread more evenly over the whole concert program, thus eliminating the peaks and valleys of activity.

b.  All twenty violins were playing identical notes. This would seem to be an unnecessary duplication, so the staff of this section should be cut drastically.

c.  Obsolescence of equipment is another matter warranting further investigation. The program noted that the leading violinist’s instrument was several hundred years old. Now, if normal depreciation schedules had been applied, the value of this instrument would have been reduced to zero and the purchase of more modern equipment recommended long ago.

d.  Much effort was absorbed in the playing of demisemiquavers, which seems to be an unnecessary refinement. It is recommended that all notes be rounded up to the nearest semiquaver. If this were done, it would be possible to use trainees and lower-grade operatives more extensively.

e.   Finally, there seemed to be too much repetition of some of the musical passages. Therefore, scores should be pruned to a considerable extent. No useful purpose is served by repeating on the horns something that has already been handled by the strings. It is estimated that, if all redundant passages were eliminated, the whole concert time of two hours could be reduced to twenty minutes and there would be no need for an intermission.

If this student had instead chosen a factory, nobody would be laughing, perhaps least of all the people in that factory. In other words, this kind of mixing up is no laughing matter. So what to do? First, get your species of organizations straight (i.e., read last week’s TWOG). Second, beware of efficiency, as well as proficiency, innovation, and leadershipout of their natural contexts (also in last week’s TWOG).

© of the story: unknown, but published more or less as above in the mid 1950s, in an American professor’s bulletin, a Canadian military journal, and Harper’s Magazine, based on an anonymous memorandum that circulated in London and was probably published originally in Her Majesty’s Treasury of the Courts. With minor editing, this was first published here on 3 October 2014. Next week: The mythical manager as orchestra conductor.

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Species of Organizations

14 April 2016

There are species of organizations just as there are species of animals. Don’t mix them up. A bear is not a beaver; one winters in caves, the other in wooden structures they build for themselves. Hospitals are not factories; advertising agencies are not fast food companies.

This may seem obvious, but while we recognize the different species of animals, we often mix up the different species of organizations. How often have management consultants come into one kind of organization and treated it like another—say tried to deal with a hospital the way they have just dealt with an automobile factory. (It might work in the cafeteria, but how about geriatrics?) Of course, we do use these kinds of words—hospitals, advertising agencies—but they designate industries, not the nature of their organizations.

There are species of organizations just as there are species of animals. Don’t mix them up. A bear is not a beaver; one winters in caves, the other in wooden structures they build for themselves. Hospitals are not factories; advertising agencies are not fast food companies.

This may seem obvious, but while we recognize the different species of animals, we often mix up the different species of organizations. How often have management consultants come into one kind of organization and treated it like another—say tried to deal with a hospital the way they have just dealt with an automobile factory. (It might work in the cafeteria, but how about geriatrics?) Of course, we do use these kinds of words—hospitals, advertising agencies—but they designate industries, not the nature of their organizations.

Our vocabulary for understanding organizations is really quite primitive. We use the word organization the way biologists use the word mammal, except that we can’t get past it. Imagine if this was the case in biology.

Two biologists meet to discuss where mammals should spend the winter. “Obviously in a cave”, says the one who studies bears. “Are you kidding?” says the other who studies beavers, “Their predators will come in and kill them. They need to build protective lodges.” They talk past each other, just as does the manager of a hospital who might try to explain to a consultant that it is not a factory.

Years ago I set out to address this problem, in a book called The Structuring of Organizations (later issued in shorter form called Structure in Fives). It has proved to be my most successful book, for many years widely used in schools around the world. But not successful enough: the way we discuss organizations remains primitive. So let me offer my framework of four basic species of organizations.

The Machine Organization  Many organizations function like well-oiled machines. They are about efficiency, namely getting the greatest quantitative bang for the quantitative buck. Accordingly, everything is programmed, to the finest detail—for example how many seconds before a McDonald’s cook turns over a hamburger patty. This makes it easy to train the workers, but not to keep these workers: their jobs can be boring and the controls stifling. The machine organization is great at what it does well—we want that wake-up call in the hotel at 8:00, not 8:01—but not outside its own context. (Would you like to lift the pillow in your hotel room and have a Jack-in-the-box jump up and say “Surprise!” You are not there to be amused. But if you are in a movie theatre, beware of films made by machine-like film companies.)

The Professional Organization This second species is programmed too, but in an entirely different way. It is about proficiency more than efficiency. In hospitals, accounting firms, and many engineering offices, the critical work is highly skilled—it takes years of training—yet most of the time it can be surprisingly routine. (Imagine being wheeled into an operating room as a nurse says: “You have nothing to worry about: this is a highly creative surgeon!”) In the professional organization, sometimes people seem to work in teams, but in fact they are usually working largely on their own. Everyone in that operating room is carrying out his or her own procedures according to the predetermined protocols. More to the point, each of the musicians in an orchestra is playing to the notes written for his or her own instrument by Beethoven, more than responding to the conductor (as suggested in the photo above).

The Entrepreneurial Organization  Yet we venerate the orchestra conductor as if this is the epitome of leadership. Again, we are mixing up species. In the entrepreneurial organization, central leadership dominates, while in orchestras there is more going on than this, as suggested above (and as will be discussed in the next two TWOGs).  The best examples of this species are often found in entrepreneurial firms created by visionaries—as in the case of a Steve Jobs at Apple. Sometimes older organizations in crisis take on this form as they centralize power around their leadership to deal with the problem. And let’s not forget totalitarian political regimes, like Putin’s Russia. When the boss of an entrepreneurial organization says “Jump!” the response is “How high sir?” (When the executive director of a hospital says “Jump”, the doctors ask “Why?” In an orchestra, some of the musicians might have a tantrum.)

The Project Organization  This fourth species is different again. Here the work is also highly skilled, but the experts have to work in teams, to combine their efforts for the sake of innovation. Think about film companies, advertising agencies, research laboratories: this is found in many kinds of high tech industries. Here the experts work on projects, to create novel outputs—a film, an ad campaign, a new product. (Over the years I have called this species the Innovative Organization, and Adhocracy.) To understand the project organization, and if you are one of its managers not screw it up entirely, you have to appreciate that it gets its effectiveness by being inefficient. Without some slack, innovation dies.

Each of these species requires its own kind of structure, its own style of management, very different power relationships, and so on. I have no space to go into all of this here—an accessible reference, mentioned at the end, does that. Let me just add that these species don’t just HAVE different cultures; they ARE different cultures. Walk into different ones and you can almost smell the differences.

Yet if you read the popular literature on organizations with these species in mind, you will find that the vast majority of it is about machine organizations, without ever admitting or even realizing it. The bulk of this is about how to become more machine-like: get better systems, do more formal planning, measure everything in sight, tighten up, become more “efficient”. And the rest is about how to compensate for the worst effects of this species—how to make the workers happier, or at least less miserable. Harry Braverman has referred to the human relations (now human resource) people who try to do this as “the maintenance crew for the human machinery.”1

Of course, I have been discussing these species as if all organizations are one or the other. Of course not, although some organizations do come remarkably close—in the order presented, a McDonald's, a Mayo Clinic, Putin’s Russia, a creative film set. Yet even so, a machine-like mass producer can have its adhocratic product development team while a hospital has its machine-like cafeteria (not to mention the need for a creative team when something does go wrong in that operating room). And then there are the hybrids—for example, a pharmaceutical company with adhocracy in its research, professional in its development, and machine in its production.

Does that mean we cannot use this framework? Quite the contrary; we need such a vocabulary even more, so that we can talk more sensibly about what is going on—within our organizations as well as across them.

© Henry Mintzberg 2016. The original book, The Structuring of Organizations (1979), is difficult to get and the shorter version, Structure in Fives (1983) is priced outrageously. Happily though, the best and most recent rendition is readily available and reasonably priced, as Part II (200 pages long) of my book Mintzberg on Management. The situation in other languages is different; all three have been translated into many languages, and may be more readily available. I hope to do a new edition of the book at some point. 

Follow this TWOG on Twitter @mintzberg141, or receive the blogs directly in your inbox by subscribing here. I also just started a new Facebook page.

Next week, the result of treating a symphony orchestra like a machine, and the week after, challenging the metaphor of the manager as orchestra conductor. 


1 H. Braverman, Labor and Monopoly Capital: The degradation of work in the Twentieth Century (Monthly Review Press, 1974:87).

 

The Board as Bee

17 March 2016

My book, Power in and around Organizations, first issued in 1983 and out of print for many years, is now available, free of charge. So this week I draw on a basic point about how bees bite, in a chapter that describes “The Board of Directors”. Read this here in the unlikely event that you don’t want to plough through all 700 pages.

Under the label “governance,” boards of directors have been getting a good deal of attention in recent years.  This may be more than they deserve because there is often more status than substance in what boards do. Boards have several useful service roles to play in organizations, but only one—rather limited—of real consequence, about control.

My book, Power in and around Organizations, first issued in 1983 and out of print for many years, is now available, free of charge. So this week I draw on a basic point about how bees bite, in a chapter that describes “The Board of Directors”. Read this here in the unlikely event that you don’t want to plough through all 700 pages.

Under the label “governance,” boards of directors have been getting a good deal of attention in recent years.  This may be more than they deserve because there is often more status than substance in what boards do. Boards have several useful service roles to play in organizations, but only one—rather limited—of real consequence, about control.

Among the beneficial services that board members can provide, those with wide experience can offer advice to the management, or simply be there as sounding boards. Directors who are well connected can help raise funds for the organization. And the very presence of influential people on the board can enhance the reputation of an organization as well as connect it to important centers of power.

The board as overseer The real influence of the board, however, is in its responsibility to act as overseer of the activities of the full-time management. This starts with the appointment of the chief. (I use the word chief rather than CEO, to include the heads of non-business as well as corporate organizations.) Then there is the assessing of this person’s performance, and replacing him or her if need be. Sometimes board members must also act temporarily in that person’s place when he or she becomes incapacitated. All of this is tricky, because boards may not be particularly adept at doing it well.

The board does not control the organization; it appoints the chief who does that, and then appropriately backs off. Chiefs have axes, boards have gavels. Don’t be fooled by the noise that gavels can make. Of course, if a board lacks confidence in its chief, it has to replace, not second-guess, him or her. The tricky part is that the board cannot do this often.

Think of the chief of an organization as someone picking flowers. There’s a bee hovering around—that’s the board—so the chief had better be careful. But that bee can only bite once. So it had better be careful too! Of course, nothing stops a board from biting more than once—replacing one chief after another—except concerns about the perception of its own competence. Most of its members probably appointed the person being dismissed.

The board apart   The trickiest part of all this is that board members, who attend only occasional meetings, and with very different responsibilities of their own, are often quite removed from what goes on in the organization. How can they even know when to replace the chief, given that their main channel into the organization is through that very same chief?

Compounding the problem of selection, assessment, and replacement is that board members typically have higher social status than most other people in the organization. That cannot help in their assessment of internal candidates for the job of managing those people. Indeed, it can introduce a bias toward selecting outsiders. Moreover, high-status people may be inclined to select people in their own image, whether other elites or at least people especially concerned with their status. Board members may relate easily to such people, but do these people themselves necessarily relate to the people they are supposed to manage? (See the TWOG called “The Harvard 19” on the bleak performance of one sample of high-status corporate CEOs.)

There is a label for people who relate well to “superiors” and badly to “subordinates”: “kiss up and kick down.” They’re great at hob knobbing with elites but lousy at working with people who are not elite. (I touched on how common this has become in an earlier TWOG, which suggested that choosing managers could be significantly improved by seeking the opinions of people who have been managed by the candidates.)

If choosing a chief sounds tricky, think about having to assess his or her performance from the outside. Next week I will discuss the tricky task of assessing managerial performance. Suffice it at this point to say that, in the absence of deeper knowledge, relying on convenient numbers—in businesses for example, profits or stock price—can be short-term and superficial.

Beware of the buzz  Of course boards vary in their practices, depending on the nature of the organization. The discussion above applies especially to widely-held corporations. But for companies closely-held by a dominant outside owner, the board may exercise considerable control on that person’s behalf—unless he or she chooses to do so personally. (But again, the management has to manage.) As for entrepreneurial companies, managed by their owners, the service roles become the main ones for the board.

As for the boards of non-business organizations—NGOs, universities, hospitals, and so on—their directors may be even more distant from the basic operations. At least the directors of businesses are usually businesspeople themselves. But what happens when businesspeople sit on these boards? If they come with the belief that business knows better, they can be a menace, posing a double danger: they may be more inclined to meddle and to appoint businesspeople to run these non-business organizations. Businesspeople may know no more about education or health care than educators and physicians know about business.

These not-for-profit organizations are different. They have more complicated stakeholder relationships; their performance targets are less easily measured; and their employee relationships tend to be more engaging. These days, the prevailing practice of the management of business is not “the one best way”, not even the best way for many businesses themselves

So what is the non-numeric bottom line for all this? Boards are necessary but problematic. They have to have an acute sense of what they don’t know, and how to find it out. And they need variety in their membership, to overcome the limitations of mislaid status. Beware of their buzzing even more than their biting.

© Henry Mintzberg 2016. Follow this TWOG on Twitter @mintzberg141, or receive the blogs directly in your inbox by subscribing here.

Working like a Cow by Walking like a Cow

10 December 2015

I’m sorry, but the third TWOG in this series of three on Managing the Care of Health is delayed because I’m doing some unexpected participative research. I’m in the hospital waiting for bypass surgery. The good news is that when I do post, it may be better informed.

In the meantime I’m posting an earlier TWOG that in fact leads into what I will be posting in the upcoming.

First posted 5 February 2015

Below is one of my favourite ads, at least about managing organizations.

This is a very serious question. Think about it. Cows have no trouble working like cows. Nor do each of us, physiologically. So why is it that when we get together, in social organizations, we have so much trouble working like a cow? Could it be because we have organizing all wrong—all this obsession with charts, namely who sits on top of whom?

I’m sorry, but the third TWOG in this series of three on Managing the Care of Health is delayed because I’m doing some unexpected participative research. I’m in the hospital waiting for bypass surgery. The good news is that when I do post, it may be better informed.

In the meantime I’m posting an earlier TWOG that in fact leads into what I will be posting in the upcoming.

First posted 5 February 2015

Below is one of my favourite ads, at least about managing organizations.

This is a very serious question. Think about it. Cows have no trouble working like cows. Nor do each of us, physiologically. So why is it that when we get together, in social organizations, we have so much trouble working like a cow? Could it be because we have organizing all wrong—all this obsession with charts, namely who sits on top of whom?

I use this ad when I speak about organizations, including in our International Masters in Practicing Management. In an earlier TWOG, which discussed the Worldly Mindset of the IMPM, I recounted an anecdote about the frenetic traffic of Bangalore—another world, for westerners at least.

Then during the week, serendipity struck. A colleague at McGill, Dora Koop, just back from attending that module, recounted another story about cows, concerning crossing the streets of Bangalore. (If you think driving in that traffic is a feat, try crossing the streets.)

The first day we were told that when we crossed the street in India we had to “walk like a cow.” The whole group had to stay together and we were warned not to do anything unexpected. So we just moved slowly across the street and the traffic went around us. Throughout the whole program people used this metaphor [recalling the one about “working like a cow”, introduced in the pervious module]. Whether we were walking in small groups or large groups, we stayed together...did not run...and walked like a cow as we crossed the busy streets.

Picture this: a mass of people—all as one, in conjunctive harmony—advancing steadily and collaboratively through what looks like chaos. Now imagine your organization likewise, advancing steadily and collaboratively through what looks like the chaos around it.

You see, in walking like a cow, we have a secret to working like a cow: it’s about walking and working together. This goes beyond charts, about who sits on top of whom—that sacred cow of leadership—to what I like to call communityship—who walks next to whom. Tune in for more about this next week.

© 2015 Henry Mintzberg In fact, one of the participants in the IMPM, shortly after my TWOG, published this commentary on the same experience in The Economist online.

Enough of silos? How about slabs?

22 October 2015

You know about silos, those vertical cylinders that keep people apart from each other in organizations—producers from engineers, doctors from nurses, staff in the Quebec Division from those in Alberta. In fact you have probably heard more than enough about these silos. 

Well, how about slabs? You know them too, if not by that name. In one Czech company, people talked about the executives on the top floor of their small building as some kind of inner sanctum, isolated from everyone else.

You know about silos, those vertical cylinders that keep people apart from each other in organizations—producers from engineers, doctors from nurses, staff in the Quebec Division from those in Alberta. In fact you have probably heard more than enough about these silos. 

Well, how about slabs? You know them too, if not by that name. In one Czech company, people talked about the executives on the top floor of their small building as some kind of inner sanctum, isolated from everyone else.

Women have long complained about the “glass ceilings” that keep them from advancing up the hierarchy. This is one kind of slab; many others, often literally made of concrete, serve as horizontal barriers to the free flow of information up the hierarchy (if not down).[1] 

I developed a CoachingOurselves topic called “Silos and Slabs in Organizations”. (CoachingOurselves.com is our training company that enables managers to develop themselves in small groups in their own workplace.) Once, when I used it with the senior management of a bank, they concluded that silos were the problem, not slabs. “You might want to ask some people on a slab or two below you,” I suggested.

We need silos for the sake of specialization in our organizations, just not ones with impenetrable walls. To use another metaphor, it’s not seamlessness we need in our organizations but good seams: tailored connections between the silos. But do we need slabs between levels of authority? For example, must the CEO, COO, CFO, and CLO, etc. all sit in their own place?

A cardinal rule of management development programs is that different levels of managers must not be mixed. Keep the CEOs with CEOs, middle managers with middle managers, and so on. Why? For the sake of status? Executives already spend much of their time with peers; they need to tap into the thinking of other kinds of managers. How about a little mingling, all you C_ Os? You might get an earful from someone in another organization who can open up to you. 

Or how about coming down from your tower, and putting your desk next to people with a different perspective on your own organization? Kao, a Japanese manufacturer of personal care and other products, became famous for running its meetings in open spaces and allowing anyone going by to join: a foreman at the executive committee, an executive at a factory meeting. Semco, a Brazilian company, reported keeping two seats at board of directors meetings open for workers.

It’s easy to bust the slabs when you realize that they are mere figments of our lack of imagination.

© Henry Mintzberg 2015. HM is a founding partner of CoachingOurselves.com and the author of 22 of its 80 developmental topics, including “Crafting Strategy”, “Simply Managing”, and “Developing our Organization as a Community.”

To download part of Henry's Silos and Slabs CoachingOurselves module click here.


[1] Years ago, the Sears retail chain moved out of the Sears Tower, then the tallest building in the world. The CEO said that “We had become a vertical culture.”  It is quite interesting how people will happily walk long distances horizontally before they climb even one flight of stairs. 

 

Building Community in a Classroom

1 May 2015

Last week I reported live from our International Masters for Health Leadership (imhl.org), about the early days of a new class of 35 people, experienced across health care around the world. This week I have asked three of my colleagues on the program, Sheila Damon, Marie-Josée Lareau, and Carlos Rueda, to help report on a novel three-day workshop that followed. Day 1 focused on Reflecting on Self and Day 2 on Working in Groups. This TWOG discusses Day 3: How to take a class of individuals toward Becoming a Community of learners and doers. Here is what happened.

Last week I reported live from our International Masters for Health Leadership (imhl.org), about the early days of a new class of 35 people, experienced across health care around the world. This week I have asked three of my colleagues on the program, Sheila Damon, Marie-Josée Lareau, and Carlos Rueda, to help report on a novel three-day workshop that followed. Day 1 focused on Reflecting on Self and Day 2 on Working in Groups. This TWOG discusses Day 3: How to take a class of individuals toward Becoming a Community of learners and doers. Here is what happened.

From thinking and acting toward doing

The day began with a short presentation on communityship, to contrast it with leadership and encourage the class to think about it beyond a local community or a community of practice, to appreciate how people engage enthusiastically for common cause.

The previous day used various exercises to drive home the idea of working cooperatively in small groups. Now it was time to get a feel for working together in a larger group, as a community.

First came a physical exercise: everyone stood in a cluster and copied the actions of the person at the front (as shown in the first photo). Then the group rotated, so that someone else was at the front, and again they all copied whatever action this new temporary leader chose to do. Repeating this several times gave a sense of collective action, where everyone leads and everyone follows.

Everyone stood in a cluster and copied the actions of the person at the front

The class will be together for five modules of eleven days each over a year and a half, to develop themselves and their organizations. But the program is more than that: it is meant to be a forum to transform how health care is managed worldwide. In other words, it is a laboratory for discussing, debating, and cooperating on major challenges facing health care, so as to launch collective initiatives that address these challenges.

A number of the participants in past classes have taken up such challenges readily (see some of their stories on imhl.org): It has been heartening to work with so many people devoted to improving health care itself, beyond their own role in it.

Guidelines for the community

To encourage communityship for the purpose of creating such initiatives, next we organized the class in four tables, each to consider one of these four questions:

  1. What is the purpose of our community--what do we want to accomplish together?
  2. What values do we want to live in our community?
  3. What roles and responsibilities should we have as members of this community?
  4. How should we communicate with each other and with the group?

We saw these questions as the leaves of a lucky four leaf clover. A neurosurgeon in the class offered another metaphor: this reminded him of the nerve supply to a muscle, where every nerve fiber matters. Here every member of the class matters--if they are to function together as a learning community.

So far, so good. The class was using everything it had learned in the previous two days about reflecting on self and working in groups. But how about actually building itself as a community?

Hence, as the next step, we asked everyone to change tables three times, so that they could all look at the answers to the guideline questions developed at each table, and add suggestions of their own. Then came the tricky part: to return to their original tables and reduce each set of answers and suggestions to a two-minute presentation. Each group, and each person, was now working on behalf of the entire community. They did it! The class developed a short set of guidelines to get the whole community off the ground. It will be re-visiting these guidelines in later modules, asking: How are we doing as a learning community? Are these guidelines being useful for our learning as a community? Should we adapt them in the light of our new experiences?

Everyone stood in a cluster and copied the actions of the person at the front

Putting the guidelines to work

Drawing up guidelines is one thing; putting them to work as a community is another. So in the afternoon we had our first go at a community-learning event. Everyone was given the opportunity to propose topics that they wished to work on, with the help of their colleagues, during the program. Seven topics were suggested, and a table was designated for each, where whoever was interested in a topic could share the expertise and experience that he or she could bring to it. These "open tables" addressed the following topics:

  1. Conflict resolution
  2. Volunteering in global health
  3. Designing medical education for residents
  4. Using social media in health care
  5. Creating a national network of specialists
  6. Quality improvement in healthcare settings
  7. Managing teams for high performance

Carrying communityship forward

The day concluded with a lively and energized Community Meeting, where everyone sat in a big circle to reflect on the accomplishments of these three days.

Everyone stood in a cluster and copied the actions of the person at the front

The class discovered that being a member of a working community requires a demanding balance of individual and collective efforts. This was more difficult than learning to work in smaller groups on the previous day. Yet everyone could feel the buzz from what had been happening this day. Communityship was taking its place beyond leadership.

Sheila Damon is a psychologist in London whose practice focuses on organisational and management development.
Marie-Josée Lareau is a circus stage director from Montreal, also now Innovation Manager at Abbvie.
Carlos Rueda, from Lima, is a former OD consultant, and currently doing a PhD at McGill University, focusing on experience and learning.

Why do we say “Top Management” yet never “Bottom Management”?

19 March 2015

We say “top management” in our organizations. And “middle management” too. So why don’t we say “bottom management”? After all, these managers know full well that if one manager is at the top and others are in the middle, they must be on the bottom.

This doesn’t tell us about the bottom; it tells us about the top: that it’s no more than a metaphor, and a silly one at that. On top of what?

  1. On top of the chart? To be sure. (See it below.) But put that chart on a table and you will see top management for what it is: no higher than anyone else. Why are we so obsessed with hierarchy—with who sits on top of whom? Is that all there is to an organization? You would think so if you tried to find any other graphic representation of the place.

    A standard organigram with 'Top Management' at the top followed by 'Middle Management' and then the query, 'Bottom Management?'

We say “top management” in our organizations. And “middle management” too. So why don’t we say “bottom management”? After all, these managers know full well that if one manager is at the top and others are in the middle, they must be on the bottom.

This doesn’t tell us about the bottom; it tells us about the top: that it’s no more than a metaphor, and a silly one at that. On top of what?

  1. On top of the chart? To be sure. (See it below.) But put that chart on a table and you will see top management for what it is: no higher than anyone else. Why are we so obsessed with hierarchy—with who sits on top of whom? Is that all there is to an organization? You would think so if you tried to find any other graphic representation of the place.

    A standard organigram with 'Top Management' at the top followed by 'Middle Management' and then the query, 'Bottom Management?'

  2. Usually on top of the building too. Is this for a better view? From up there, top managers can see everything in general and nothing in particular. Bear in mind that the bottomest of bottom managers in Denver sit thousands of feet higher than the topest of top managers in New York.

  3. Well then, how about on top of what’s going on in the organization? Certainly not. Perceiving oneself perched on top of an organization is the worst way to understand what’s happening inside of it. Say “top” and we picture someone hovering over the place, as if on some sort of cloud, far removed from all those people who make the products and deliver the services.

So how about this? We get rid of top management (the name I mean). Instead we call it central management, as shown in the inner circle of the figure below. This suggests that it is essential but not superior, still removed from the operations, but in this depiction evidently so.

 Central Management; Connecting Management; Operating Management

In the outer circle, all around the organization, we put those managers who face out to the world, in closest touch with the customers and operating employees. So let’s call them operating managers.

And between the central managers and the operating managers are the connecting managers. They still translate between the center and the operations, but also carry the best ideas generated in the operations to the center. No longer, like Sisyphus, do they have to do this uphill!

Thus, instead of seeing middle mangers as drains on the organization—lost somewhere in the middle, to get rid of at the first opportunity (it’s called “downsizing”: think bloodletting)—these connecting managers can be seen as essential players in the creation of constructive change. In fact, the best of them, with a broad enough perspective to appreciate the big picture yet grounded enough to help develop it, can turn out to be key strategists in the organization.

To conclude, if you would like to do some worthwhile downsizing in your organization, begin with the bloated vocabulary of “top management”. Stop using it. That way you can cease looking up and down, to figure out who is more and less important, and instead look around, at all your valued colleagues.

© Henry Mintzberg 2015 HM teaches in the Managers’ mba—it’s about managing by action, not Administering Businesses. (See managersmba.org.)

For related TWOGs: On the difference between an Organization and a Reorganization, on how strategic ideas can come from the operations. On engaging management.

Enough Leadership. Time for Communityship.

12 February 2015

Heard the word “leadership” lately, for example in the last five minutes? We are obsessed with leadership: say organization and we think leadership. That’s why those organization charts are so ubiquitous. They tell us who sits on top of whom, but not, for example, who talks with whom? Must we be so fixated on formal authority? (Have a look at Figure 1 to see an Organization. Then look at Figure 2 to see a Re-organization.)

Figure 1: This is an Organization
Flowchart.

Figure 2: This is a Re-organization
Identical flowchart.

Ever heard the word “communityship”? If not, fear not: you won’t find it in a dictionary.1 Too bad, because we need it to put leadership in its place.

Heard the word “leadership” lately, for example in the last five minutes? We are obsessed with leadership: say organization and we think leadership. That’s why those organization charts are so ubiquitous. They tell us who sits on top of whom, but not, for example, who talks with whom? Must we be so fixated on formal authority? (Have a look at Figure 1 to see an Organization. Then look at Figure 2 to see a Re-organization.)

Figure 1: This is an Organization
Flowchart.

Figure 2: This is a Re-organization
Identical flowchart.

Ever heard the word “communityship”? If not, fear not: you won’t find it in a dictionary.1 Too bad, because we need it to put leadership in its place.

Say “leadership” and you invoke the image of an individual—at the limit, the great white knight riding in on a great white horse to save us all (even if headed into a black hole). Everyone else is a follower. Even if the intention of the leadership is to empower other people, its effect can be to disempower them. Do we really want a world of followers?

Think of the organizations you most admire. I’ll bet that front and center is a powerful sense of community. To use a phrase that I cannot repeat too often, effective organizations are communities of human beings, not collections of human resources.

How can you recognize communityship? That's easy. You have found it when you walk into an organization and are struck by the energy in the place, the personal commitment of the people and their collective engagement in what they are doing. These people don’t have to be formally empowered because they are naturally engaged. The organization respects them so they respect it. They don’t live in mortal fear of being fired en mass because some “leader” hasn’t made his or her numbers. Imagine an economy made up of such organizations.

Sure we need leadership, especially to establish communityship in a new organization and to help sustain it in an established organization. What we don’t need is this obsession with leadership—of the individual singled out from the rest, as if he or she is the end all and be all of the organization. So here’s to less leadership, or perhaps better put, just enough leadership, embedded in communityship.

There is a famous line in a Molière play spoken by a character who discovers that he has been speaking prose all his life. Well, it’s time for us to discover that the best of our organizations have been living communityship all their lives.


1. I first wrote about this in 2006 and again in 2009: “Community-ship is the answerFinancial Times, 23 Oct 2006, page 8, and “Rebuilding Companies as CommunitiesHarvard Business Review, July/August 2009, pages 140-143.

© 2015 Henry Mintzberg

Working like a Cow by Walking like a Cow

5 February 2015

Below is one of my favourite ads, at least about managing organizations.

This is a very serious question. Think about it. Cows have no trouble working like cows. Nor do each of us, physiologically. So why is it that when we get together, in social organizations, we have so much trouble working like a cow? Could it be because we have organizing all wrong—all this obsession with charts, namely who sits on top of whom?

I use this ad when I speak about organizations, including in our International Masters in Practicing Management. In last week’s TWOG, which discussed the Worldly Mindset of the IMPM, I recounted an anecdote about the frenetic traffic of Bangalore—another world, for westerners at least.

Below is one of my favourite ads, at least about managing organizations.

This is a very serious question. Think about it. Cows have no trouble working like cows. Nor do each of us, physiologically. So why is it that when we get together, in social organizations, we have so much trouble working like a cow? Could it be because we have organizing all wrong—all this obsession with charts, namely who sits on top of whom?

I use this ad when I speak about organizations, including in our International Masters in Practicing Management. In last week’s TWOG, which discussed the Worldly Mindset of the IMPM, I recounted an anecdote about the frenetic traffic of Bangalore—another world, for westerners at least.

Then during the week, serendipity struck. A colleague at McGill, Dora Koop, just back from attending that module, recounted another story about cows, concerning crossing the streets of Bangalore. (If you think driving in that traffic is a feat, try crossing the streets.)

The first day we were told that when we crossed the street in India we had to “walk like a cow.” The whole group had to stay together and we were warned not to do anything unexpected. So we just moved slowly across the street and the traffic went around us. Throughout the whole program people used this metaphor [recalling the one about “working like a cow”, introduced in the pervious module]. Whether we were walking in small groups or large groups, we stayed together...did not run...and walked like a cow as we crossed the busy streets.

Picture this: a mass of people—all as one, in conjunctive harmony—advancing steadily and collaboratively through what looks like chaos. Now imagine your organization likewise, advancing steadily and collaboratively through what looks like the chaos around it.

You see, in walking like a cow, we have a secret to working like a cow: it’s about walking and working together. This goes beyond charts, about who sits on top of whom—that sacred cow of leadership—to what I like to call communityship—who walks next to whom. Tune in for more about this next week.

© 2015 Henry Mintzberg

Ye gods: an efficient orchestra!

3 October 2014

I didn’t write this. I found it many years ago, and have used it to the great amusement of many groups.1

A young, enthusiastic student was finally given the opportunity to apply his learning. He was asked to carry out a survey of a group with which he was not normally familiar and submit recommendations as to how its efficiency could be increased. He selected as his target a symphony orchestra. Having read up on the tools of the trade, he attended his first concert and submitted the following analysis:

I didn’t write this. I found it many years ago, and have used it to the great amusement of many groups.1

A young, enthusiastic student was finally given the opportunity to apply his learning. He was asked to carry out a survey of a group with which he was not normally familiar and submit recommendations as to how its efficiency could be increased. He selected as his target a symphony orchestra. Having read up on the tools of the trade, he attended his first concert and submitted the following analysis:

  1. For considerable periods, the four oboe players had nothing to do. The number of oboes should therefore be reduced, and the work spread more evenly over the whole concert program, thus eliminating the peaks and valleys of activity.
  2. All twenty violins were playing identical notes. This would seem to be an unnecessary duplication, so the staff of this section should be cut drastically.
  3. Obsolescence of equipment is another matter warranting further investigation. The program noted that the leading violinist’s instrument was several hundred years old. Now, if normal depreciation schedules had been applied, the value of this instrument would have been reduced to zero and the purchase of more modern equipment recommended long ago.
  4. Much effort was absorbed in the playing of demisemiquavers, which seems to be an unnecessary refinement. It is recommended that all notes be rounded up to the nearest semiquaver. If this were done, it would be possible to use trainees and lower-grade operatives more extensively.
  5. In many cases, the operators were using one hand to hold their instruments. The introduction of a fixture would free that hand for other work. Also, it was noted that excessive effort was being used by the players of wind instruments whereas one compressor could supply enough air for all the instruments – and under more accurately controlled conditions.
  6. Finally, there seemed to be too much repetition of some of the musical passages. Therefore, scores should be pruned to a considerable extent. No useful purpose is served by repeating on the horns something that has already been handled by the strings. It is estimated that, if all redundant passages were eliminated, the whole concert time of two hours could be reduced to twenty minutes and there would be no need for an intermission.

If this student had instead chosen a factory, nobody would be laughing, perhaps least of all the people in that factory. This, in other words, is no laughing matter. So what to do about it (good luck):

First, keep away from influence people who barely understand the situation they are in. This includes, not only such students, but also too many consultants and CEOs. (More on this in later TWOGs.)

Second (also to come in another TWOG), there are species of organizations just as there are species of animals. Don’t mix them up. After all, orangutans are different from foxes, just as orchestras are different from factories.

Intended to come next Friday: A TWOG on that dirty word “efficiency.”

1. Published more or less as above in the mid 1950s, in an American professor’s bulletin, a Canadian military journal, and Harper’s Magazine, based on an anonymous memorandum that circulated in London and was probably published originally in Her Majesty’s Treasury of the Courts.

Five Easy Steps to Destroying your Organization

19 September 2014

I’m not much for five easy steps to do anything. But I do make one exception: here are five easy steps to destroying your organization. Any one will do.

  • Manage the bottom line, as if you make money by managing money, rather than attending to products, services, and customers.
  • Make a plan for every action: no spontaneity please, no learning.
  • Move managers around so they can never get to know anything but management well--and kick the CEO upstairs (better to manage a portfolio than a real business).
  • Hire and fire those human resources the way you buy and sell other resources.
  • Do everything in five easy steps.

© 2014 Henry Mintzberg

I’m not much for five easy steps to do anything. But I do make one exception: here are five easy steps to destroying your organization. Any one will do.

  • Manage the bottom line, as if you make money by managing money, rather than attending to products, services, and customers.
  • Make a plan for every action: no spontaneity please, no learning.
  • Move managers around so they can never get to know anything but management well--and kick the CEO upstairs (better to manage a portfolio than a real business).
  • Hire and fire those human resources the way you buy and sell other resources.
  • Do everything in five easy steps.

© 2014 Henry Mintzberg