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Let’s make a movie. We need a producer with the money. A director to direct. An agency to find the actors. Lighting people? Yes please. Outdoors or indoors? We need the guys in charge of location. Ah, we need studios as well. And the special effects crew.  Don’t forget the editors. I am sure I must be missing a few tribes.

Who is really, really in charge? Surely the director. Nope. He directs. Ok, then the producer? Well, not really, he has the money and certainly a lot of influence, but is not directing. What about the Lighting and Casting and Location guys? Well, they’re not in charge, but nobody can do anything without them, so, they are sort of in charge. Ah, the Special Effects people! It’s a movie with lots of them, so they are in charge. Not really, they only care about big screens and keyboards.

Ok then, lets ask a typical organizational question. Who reports to whom? ‘Sorry, don’t understand reporting, please explain’, the movie people would say. But, how does it work? Who calls the shots?  ‘Well, it depends on the type of shots, the days we are shooting and a few other things’.

It sounds like chaos! Chaos? It’s been working this way for many decades now. At this point of discussion, reflection, irritation or puzzlement we could perhaps hear somebody saying: ‘Wait a minute, the movie is the movie; finally, there will be a movie on the screen and it will have a big name associated with it, that’s the director. It’s the director’s baby, so surely he’s in charge?’

Nope. The movie you see on the screen is not the director’s movie. Somebody called the editor has made the cuts and pastes and delivered the final movie, which excludes many things the director filmed. And, yes, the director can get very annoyed. That is why there are versions called ‘The Director’s Cut’, in other words, the unadulterated version. But, go and try to find one of these.

So here we are, several tribes get together for a while. They all know what to do, nobody is really, really in charge, they do their jobs  and show up when needed, they disappear when finished, everybody gets paid. No committees, no task forces, no employee engagement surveys. Group, ungroup, have fun, and no org chart!

Before you think of the 27 reasons why ‘this will never work in your organization’, I suggest we pause. Maybe we are missing something here, when seeing things from the ‘traditional’ organizational view. Maybe we should all try to make some kind of organizational movie.


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  1. Scott Fahlman

    A movie-making team is a good example of distributed decision-making: each specialist makes the decisions in the area of his or her own expertise, and it works best if those in other areas don’t try to interfere (though offering suggestions should always be welcome).

    But even in movies, there is a way of making final decisions when the specialists don’t agree. Directors do sometimes get fired, either by the producer or by the investors, and sometimes the movie turns out very well despite that. The director’s contract usually specifies very clearly who gets the final cut, script approval, etc.

    In my (limited) experience, someone has to be in ultimate control and has to take ultimate responsibility for the resulting decisions. It’s best to use this authority as little as possible, and to let the various experts do what they understand best. But if there is nobody with ultimate authority, any irreconcilable difference can only be resolved by disbanding the enterprise and writing off the investment so far. And if the participants know that this is the situation, some of them will be tempted to use an impasse and threat of shutdown as a weapon to get their own way. Creative people, by their very nature, have strong opinions, and not always the same opinions as others on the team.

    So I think that having an ultimate, well-defined chain of command is essential for any enterprise that actually has to achieve some goal — and then a wise leader will try to empower and delegate decisions to those lower down as much as possible. Are you really advocating that we try to do without this?

    • Leandro Herrero

      Scott: Of course not. I am advocating and urgent need to look at alternative organizational models with an open mind. I have learnt a lot from NGOs who can’t control what happens on the ground miles away, from the army given a more flexible concept of ‘chain of command’, from other places… Of course this thinking is not new but we are still very timid. I am not 100% sure we can always define well ‘the real chain of command’. What we can is to define accountabilities. It’s always a choice to accept them despite the fact that one may not have full control. Leadership is here. In a forthcoming blog I will propose to leaders to ‘lose control’ to gain control. Appreciate very much your contribution, Scott. Keep in the loop. Spread this to others and invite to sign up – we may get a little movement here…

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