There's an obvious subtitle for this post: "Stop before you chop." Fourth in our series of NetAge Reports on virtual reorganization, we address the hidden forces that sit behind how we shape our organizations. Since so many organizations are undertaking reorganization right now, we feel compelled to contribute what we know. And, we're concerned about mindless reorganization that doesn't take into account unintended consequences.
Driven by twin needs--to optimize communication while enhancing decision-making--organizations are in constant flux between centralization and its opposite, decentralization. But as we've said before, mindless flattening of organizations will be disastrous because it reduces the ability to respond intelligently to change.
In our post yesterday, we pointed out that Obama is "complexifying" government by creating more layers, adding cross-links, and multiplying leadership. At the end of the NYT article we referenced there, Karl Rove is quoted as saying that Obama's moves are likely to "create a more centralized and possibly incoherent policy process." Not surprisingly, Rove has it exactly wrong, calling Obama's reorganization centralizing moves. But Rove is hardly alone in this common misconception, even among our network-tuned friends. However, he does have it right that such rearrangements indeed may cause incoherence. This is why we have promoted the idea of visualizing and analyzing our organizations, so we can manage more complexity with less effort.
Here's NetAge Report #4:
Organizing at the Edge of Chaos
Early in the presidential contest between the newly-presumptive Democratic nominee Barack Obama and already named Republican John McCain, Elisabeth Bumiller published “Cast of 300 Advises Obama on Foreign Policy” to which the New York Times gave page-one real estate. Largely an insightful “who’s-who” of his advisers for this delicate area of national concern, the article also offers remarkable portraits of the stark contrast between the organizing styles of two the candidates. One was simple, the other complex. Guess who won.
Bumiller describes Obama’s apparatus as a “huge 300-person foreign policy campaign bureaucracy organized like a mini State Department to assist a candidate whose limited national security experience remains a concern to many voters.” The article goes on to describe an “infrastructure” of twenty teams that focus on regions (e.g., Asia and China) and issues (e.g., nuclear proliferation). By contrast, Bumiller describes John McCain’s approach as “a far smaller and looser foreign policy advisory operation, about 75 people in all, and none are organized into teams.”
So there you have it. McCain had direct input from 75 people, an incredibly large “span” of “direct reports” by any organizational measure and an extremely flat organization. No “middle” men or women. Perfect for simplicity and direct communication. McCain, the ostensibly more experienced of the two men in foreign policy, didn’t think he needed nuanced views regarding foreign policy, and he didn’t get many.
Obama organized differently, with a core team of six people managing twenty separate pipelines of progressively synthesized input from advisors with great depth of expertise. Larger teams had their own sub-teams, such as the forty-person nuclear proliferation team organized into eight working groups by Brookings Institution and National Security Council veteran Ivo Daalder.