Peter Baker has a great reorganization story in today's NY Times' Week in Review section, "And Now Let the Jockeying Begin." It neatly combines attention to the power of the position with the power of the person--twin dynamics that we've been writing about when discussing organization structure. Baker's story recaps many of the reorganization changes we've noted in posts over the past few weeks, and nicely platforms (stayed tuned) tomorrow's post, "Organizing at the Edge of Chaos." The Baker piece and those that we're adding here are not just about the Obama administration but also point to valuable insights for any organization facing redesign themselves in uncertain times, meaning now.
The Times piece notes, as have we, that Obama's government is becoming more complicated, with the appointment of "czars," special envoys, and task forces, which Baker describes as "overlaying an additional set of actors upon a bureaucracy already scratchy about who's in charge. Mr. Obama concluded that new high-powered figures are needed to force change but they pose a delicate management challenge."
These formal organizational overlays are precisely the virtual reorganization forms emerging to transform traditional bureaucracy. They represent a necessary "complexification" of government to match the complexification of problems we face. They also reflect the need for a more "leaderful" structure, a hallmark of the new networked organizations, whether hierarchies or more informal groupings. Such enterprises are, of course, more difficult to manage, but they're smarter. If there's one thing we need right now, it's intelligent organizations. Really, we have no choice.
The article notes the same new White House offices that we described in our recent "Reorganizing the Executive Office of the President"--offices to coordinate climate change and energy, urban policy, technology, and health. Vice President Biden's task force on the middle class is a great example of a coordination overlay that you can see in US Gov + Task Force map. We've also blogged about the unusual two-hatted organizational role assigned to the incoming HHS Secretary, who will also serve as an insider in the Exec Office of President, leading the Health Care Reform effort. This dual role is now threatened by a tax mess with an uncertain confirmation ahead.
According to Baker's article, John Podesta, who co-headed the transition effort, is an architect for many of these design changes. "There are things that cut across agency lines that needed real powerful White House cohesion, direction, and leadership," Mr. Podesta said.
These cross-cutting networks overlaying the hierarchy require new types of leaders who can operate in more complex environments. Thus, the choice of leaders follows the design requirements. "The structure that was built was done with due regard for the fact that there would be conflict. But the team we built was done with the idea that these people could work together," Podesta explained.
-- Jeff Stamps