Information Access and Flow LO11617

Janet Winchester-Silbaugh (
Tue, 31 Dec 1996 11:36:23 -0700

Replying to LO11531 --

As a long-time lurker following this conversation, I can't resist adding
some thoughts on hierarchies.

In LO 11590, Mike says hierarchies should be "multiple... overlapping and
... temporary". Rol says (LO11531) that would "effectively create an
environment in which everyone participates in the hierarchy, not just a
chosen few". What! Create structures that constantly update themselves to
fit a changing environment? It seems to me that one of the biggest
limitations of our current human resources and finance structures is that
they are built on the paradigm that the enviroment does not change.
Create the perfect organizational structure, compensation system or job
description and life will be good. So why don't they work this way in

In organizations I see, the formal organizational heirarchy flourishes
where there are nothing else which creates order, decisions and
priorities. But other things can create these just as easily. Strong
goals, an overriding leader, or decisions driven by the external
environment all can push the formal hierarchy aside in the rush to "get
things done" (for better or worse). It's as though the formal
organizational hierarchy fills a vacuum when goals, leadership and
external pressures don't provide the answers. Maybe this is part of the
reason a new leader can get things done that the former leadership
couldn't -- they are more likely to do what works, using the formal
heirarchy when it's effective and other things when it's not. Maybe this
is part of the reason no one talks about formal authority in a crisis --
the crisis makes priorities very clear.

Why do organizations fall back on the formal heirarchy, rather than
creating multiple, overlapping, temporary bits of systems where everyone
participates, not just a chosen few? Maybe it's difficult to make these
bits and pieces fit into an understandable whole.

Janet Winchester-Silbaugh
The Synergy Group Limited, an Organization Development Consulting Group

Learning-org -- An Internet Dialog on Learning Organizations For info: <> -or- <>