Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Manager in a Networked Organization

In my previous posts I have shown how to describe organization structures in a way different from the typical hierarchical line management top-down tree.  Because communication is at the heart of any organization that wants to be agile, with self-organizing teams and an innovation culture, the communication paths are the primary feature of the organization structure.  Companies become networks of interconnected persons and teams.

So far I had left out the manager in these networked org charts.  Why, you may ask?  Well, because it is not easy to place him or her in a structure without reverting back to reporting lines.  But they should not be important and should rarely come into use.  The line in line manager is the least of a managers tasks.

What does the line represent in a typical org chart?  The person on the top end of the line has command power over the person on the bottom and reporting has to come back up the line.  In other words: command and control.  But in an agile organization, we want the manager to focus on very different things:
  • Enable the teams to self-organize and self-direct as much as possible
  • Make sure the teams and their members jell and are competent in what they do
  • Give clear goals and guidelines to the teams
  • Help employees and teams to find the best structure for communication with each other
  • Make sure no organizational obstacles are in the teams' way
  • Encourage and facilitate continuous improvement of people, teams, processes and whatever else impacts the work of each employee
And, yes, some form of control / reporting will be there as well - however, primarily to measure how good the manager himself is doing with the bullet points above.

So I think we need to eliminate the reporting line entirely from the org chart. Here is an example of how it could look like:

Of course, management will have communication paths to their assigned employees.  Just like for the communities of practice, this communication is color-coded rather than represented by lines.  This makes the chart much easier to read.

It is imperative that the managers form a cluster (the management team) themselves.  In the example above we have teams that are formed of people with different managers.  This should not be an issue if the management team works together with a common goal so that all teams will get an agreed goal from the entire management team.  Remember that setting goals is one of the important tasks for managers in an agile organization.

There are many issue that are still open and to be discussed.  What about bigger organizations with more managers and more management levels?  What about service teams that help the others but do not actually produce the product?  What about distributed organizations or even distributed teams?  I will try to tackle these questions in my next posts, although I do not promise that perfect solutions will be forthcoming.  And you can help me by commenting on my ideas.