Are Hierarchies All Bad? LO31033

From: dougm (
Date: 03/23/04

Replying to LO31031 --

AM de Lange wrote:

"...But when we get to hierarchies in human organizations, little of
nature's hierarchy is to be found in it. The following is rather found
which Molly Brown describes so aptly: 'Unfortunately, few bosses or
employees understand the relationship of subsystem to larger system,
and frequently act in ways that disrupt the healthy systemic
functioning of their organizations. CEO's may assume that because
they are "on top," their own needs and perspectives matter more than
anyone else's; they may make decisions based more on personal
preference than on organizational needs.'..."

My impression has been that the Learning Organization movement has
focused too much on the learning of the individuals in organizations
as opposed to how organizations learn. That is, how organizational
outcomes are fed back to shape future organizational behavior. In
this light the above comments on hierarchies are cast in terms
boss-subordinate relationships, still focused on the individuals in a
hierarchical organization (e.g., the "Alpha Male" in a pack of dogs).

I'd prefer to think of organizational hierarchy as a more general term
that includes Max Weber's idea of Bureaucracy. Weber's Bureaucracy
was guided by six principles: (1) Fixed and official jurisdictional
areas which are ordered by rules, that is laws and administrative
regulations, (2) Hierarchy and levels of graded authority where the
lower offices are supervised by the higher ones. (3) Management is
based on official documents (the files), (4) The officials have
thorough and expert training, (5) It requires the full time work of
the official, (6) Management follows rules.

The more general formulation of Hierarchical Mechanisms for
Organizational Learning would focus on the symbols and rules that
shape organizational perception and behavior (e.g., job definition and
organizational structure, formal process and control systems,
performance measurement, resource allocation and compensation systems)
and how these symbols and rules are in turn modified by feedback as a
result of previous organizational behavior. The general metaphor of
this type of Organizational Learning would be the organization as a
Stored Program Machine.

The other two types of organizational learning mechanisms are: 1)
Market - when past learnings are stored in organizational populations
(e.g., individual employee populations or business unit boundaries)
and the learning process depends on the selection mechanisms by which
these populations change (e.g., the learning metaphor maybe Darwinian
or Lamarckian), 2) Clan or Neural Network - where past learnings are
stored in the relationships among individual or collective members of
the organization and the learning process depends on the mechanisms by
which these relationships change (e.g., the learning metaphor may be
Skinnerian and the Organization could be thought of as a form or
neural network).

When governed by hierarchical mechanisms Individual behavior is
primarily shaped by the rules and procedures that define their job --
what they must or can't do. When governed by market mechanisms
Individual behavior is primarily shaped by their perception of self
interest. When governed by Clan mechanisms Individual behavior is
shaped when the individual defers their individual self interest to
serve the interest of the larger group to which they perceive they are
a member.

I think of Hierarchy, Market and Clan Mechanisms are the Primary
Colors of organizational learning, each type of mechanism can play
different roles at different levels of the organizational system.
For example, at any given point in time Clan mechanisms may be in the
foreground within the Local Work Teams while Market Mechanisms could
guide the allocation of resources among the Business Units and the
Corporate Center of the Organization may control the Symbols and Rules
which define the environmental context for both the Business Units and
the Local Work Teams.

doug merchant


"dougm" <>

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