I am back with a favourite theme: hierarchies and power.
The first law of organizational hierarchical power is my version of the law of conservation of energy (‘the total energy of an isolated system is constant; energy can be transformed from one form to another, but cannot be created or destroyed’)
So here it is: organizational hierarchical power can be transformed from one form to another, but cannot be created or destroyed.
If top down hierarchical power diminishes, somewhere down in the organization, power generation will emerge and increase. Maybe the Project Leaders, the semi-autonomous teams, the field or customer facing people. Power is never gone, just hiding first and re-emerging later.
Also, top hierarchy never disappears, it takes a nap, or even hibernates, but remains somewhere perhaps in benign forms.
Corollary: If this is so, non-hierarchical organizations are an oxymoron. Hierarchy has been transformed but not disappeared. It’s the law.
In ancient times, kings may have been killed, only to see the emergence of the barons. My very first management article in a publication now defunct, was entitled ‘Kings or Cousins? ’ The question is how smart we are to choose the right trade off.
Stretching it now: don’t try to create a non-hierarchical culture. It does not exist. The question is what kind of hierarchy. And if you shoot for zero, ok, kill the king, but tell me where the cousins are. There may be more powerful than the king, even if now called team leader, or completely-self-contained-and-self-managed-team-member-coordinator.
Power can be transformed, it never disappears.
It’s the law.