Gabazira's blog

The Effectiveness-Lab

Are organisational structure and hierarchy dying on their feet? Series 1 of 2

Are structure and hierarchy at the organisation, like we have known the ‘OD-twins’ since our days at school and at work, dying on their feet? Structure/Hierarchy is so synonymous with the modern organisation that the moment we set foot into any organisation, the thing you witness first at the reception centre, apart from the furniture and fixtures, is hierarchy defined in a very layered structure.

When you enter any organisation, you are most likely to start with the lowest-ranked cadres. Do we even realise that organisations work like the army? The non-commissioned officers are at the frontline and in harms-way, while the more senior officers are behind the layers and layers of hierarchy and pretty safe from the crossfire.

Upon entering an organisation’s doors and walls, we are likely to encounter the guards first, then receptionist. These caders take the wrath of all visitors to the organisation.  So, depending on the business that you want to be accomplished at the entity you are visiting,  you interface first with the lower ranks and progressively go up. For example, if you’re going to meet the CEO, you will have to go via the CEO’s PA or equivalent.  You rarely have direct access to the big fish. It’s structure, hierarchy and command.

The worrying thing is that we have come to expect the above, and never take the time to question the status quo. Even in our homes, there is a hierarchy. To get to the parents in a home, we usually have to go through the children. In patriarchal societies, the order of access to the most senior human being in a home, often the man is: the domestic servant, children, mother or wife who finally grants access to the most senior human-being, the man.

But are we witnessing the end of structure and hierarchy as we have come to know it?

Truth be told, hierarchy is under attack. Who wants too much structure and order, to organise?

There are so many negativities to hierarchy:

  • The delegation to human beings that don’t do much but police other human beings, unconsciously making the assumption, correct or not, that the others can’t manage themselves
  • The cost of organising and sustaining layers and layers of hierarchy; having every layer to check the layer below it, costs money
  • It’s no longer sexy to have bosses – even in patriarchal societies, increasingly women are now equal to men (as a matter of fact, men struggle to meet the high standards set by women); millennial staff at organisations are asking for ‘freedom and trust’ at work, and not what there parents and forefathers put first, hefty compensation and the accompanying loyalty – and the latter brings incredible pressure on hierarchy. The carrot and stick have been taken away from the high-priests of hierarchy – and they have been left confused by the new carrot and stick. This new generation will walk away from claustrophobic, slave-master environments at work. It’s not their thing and the hierarchy gurus don’t always know what to do
  • The emerging and now entrenched value for money (VFM) questions on the cost of hierarchy/labour has placed incredible pressure and food-for-thought on leaders at organisations; the private sector is pushing the ‘doing more for less’ approach, those in the charity sector are familiar with the ever-increasing questions, by the donors, on the straight-jacket and stiff organising mechanisms at not-for-profit entities; even the governments and churches are looking at there structure and making it more sensible, practical and flexible
  • Technology is being used to replace human beings. In essence, it does the job so well, giving you the oversight and assurance, we look for when we ask humans to police others, but avoids the fallouts from the human interactions. Humans and humans, as long as they come face to face, are bound to conflict. Then why bother with all the bickering? Simply eliminate anything that carries human blood and stick to technology – welcome to the age of AI

So – what happens to the things we have been taught and have applied at work for years?

It’s not far fetched to write on this blog that we have been indoctrinated to think structure and hierarchy at work. The latter is all we know and can’t see anything else working. We simply envisage death when we think about an organisation without hierarchy.

Attend any workshop discussing organisational strategy, future, roadmaps or OD. matters and then take the time to count the number of times, people, utter statements like:

  • Form follows function
  • The structure isn’t working for us; it’s clunky. But is there anything with a hierarchy that isn’t clunky?
  • The structure is ‘top-heavy’ and outmoded. So, would a ‘bottom-heavy’ structure work better instead?

We throw the above statements around – and by the way, in an unconscious manner. It’s apparent that they are part of our DNA. It’s what we have been taught and know, plus secures us and our future (read jobs).

But we dare ask the question: as much as we are in bed with structure and hierarchy, and management colleges, and by the way our own homes, continue to churn out more hierarchy converts, is it far-fetched to write that structure and hierarchy may be amongst the bigger obstacles to the much needed organizational evolution?

See you next week


4 responses to “Are organisational structure and hierarchy dying on their feet? Series 1 of 2”

  1. Interesting contoversial essential conversation! I like the divide between the oldies and the millenials, and I think until the two generations reach a compromise via a give and take, it will remain hypothetical who brings what on the table. Maybe the oldies need to relax the hierarchy hangover, but are the millenials willing to deliver high quality results which meets industry standards consistently without the carrot and the stick??


    1. @MAO – the Millenials, and even worse, the generation behind them [read Z] don’t give a damn about delivering…. they have changed the delivery language and minimums from what the owners always want, to what they want as individuals…. it’s about them and not the wealth/vision owners

      Whether they will succeed completely – only time will tell – if they do, it may be the end of the modern company, we have known post-world war II, whose direction is defined in the boardroom

      We may quickly be returning to something even beyond a holacracy; to a kibbutz like something … watch the space 🧐


  2. […] funny that as we write series 2 of this blog, the very hypothesis that we put before you in series 1 is under scrutiny. With COVID19 ravaging the globe, have we ever been in a time where military-like […]


  3. Technology and specifically Artificial Intelligence (AI) has become the biggest business disrupter (read enabler), its short coming is that it only affects the front liners. Pick for instance; google assistant is replacing many PAs and many business now days are concluded and executed virtually without any one having to supervise another. But let’s think about our local Uganda’s case; population growth and technology index are in reverse directions. Here in Uganda we need the hierarchies to create jobs. Question then is; how do we use technology to improve business performance, innovations, business flexibilities without necessarily breaking structures?


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About Me

Apollo B. Gabazira is an Ugandan OD. junkie fascinated by matters that render organisations/individuals effective or not. He blogs on effective leadership and management. He is a devoted green-farmer and breeds the Ayrshire cow at Nakabugu, Luuka district, Uganda. Apollo is quite effective at what he chooses to do.


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