It doesn’t matter if you have to structure a team of five people or a team of fifty thousand people, in both cases, you need to follow the same logic to organize people. This effort will end up with several options. Some options will be a better fit for your current challenges and the others are less. Thinking and treating organization structure as fractals makes them easier to understand and define.
Let’s start with the definition of structure in an organization’s context. Structure from this article’s point of view is how we group people and groups of people to reach the best operation of an organization. The classical definition will add roles and responsibilities. I took them out since roles and responsibilities are not a daily concern.
There are two ways to create a structure. You can let it evolve naturally (harder for most people, but the better long term), or engineering it all the time (easiest for most people, but better for short term). Letting structure evolving is a one-time agony. Once people evolve into a structure, they will keep adjusting the structure by themselves. Using this approach for big teams is not workable because of the time it will take them to self-organize. In this post, I’ll focus on engineering the structure.
From a structure point of view, my recommendation is to think about a group of people as an atom and a group of groups as a molecule. Each group has a nucleus, the same as atoms. Neutrons and protons create together a nucleus. around the nucleus, there are electrons that are part of one atom (group) but can be part of other groups.
A nucleus in a group is several people bound based on a common purpose. As a nucleus has neutrons and protons, a group nucleus should have people that are different. The chemistry between people in the nucleus will attract electrons that will take part in group activities. Those floating people are essential for bonding several groups into a group of groups (molecule).
The structure above is a universal law. You can let it create by itself, or engineer it. If we want to engineer this structure, there are several rules that we need to follow:
- Define what is the purpose of a group
- Make sure we have the right combination and ratio between neutrons and protons (do we have the right people with the right skill sets, competencies, and personalities)
- Who are the electrons of the group, how many of them needed and what is their bonding level to the group nucleus?
- How many people that act as electrons taking part in other groups, which groups and how many needed?
- What are the atoms and molecules that we didn’t create, but we notice exist in the organization.
Define what is the purpose of a group
People need a reason to work together. It can be a noble goal they all agreed on, a common need to make money, the chemistry between them (same personality, same occupation), and many other options. Your role is to find out what is the best purpose for each group of people and a group of groups. What works for one group, is not going to work for other groups in different settings. The purpose is the glue of a group, if it’s not attracting people to work together, the group will start to be less productive.
Because the environment groups are operating within change all the time, someone needs to make sure that all groups have the right purpose. You probably saw more than once how it looks like when groups are running with the wrong purpose.
Make sure we have the right combination and ratio between neutrons and protons
As the engineer of the system, you can define who is going to fill any roles in a group. Just assigning people base on their skillset won’t work. you have to make sure that you are creating a strong nucleus. You have to make sure that people with the right diversity create the nucleus of a group. Diversity is not enough, you have to make sure that you have the right ratio between different personalities that fit the group purpose.
A strong and cohesive nucleus will make a great group and will manage to overcome issues or movement of electrons between groups. Don’t underestimate the importance of making sure the right people with the right personalities creating the group nucleus.
Who are the electrons of the group, how many of them needed and what is their bonding level to the group nucleus
After focusing on groups and nucleus, it’s about time to think of how all of those groups are connected together into molecules and more complex structures. Since you are the engineer you need to know which groups should have a strong bond to other groups and how strong the bond should be. Based on this data you need to define which electrons needed and how many each group needs.
Sometimes you need to assign people to several roles in several groups to create a stronger bond. In other cases, a more loose bond of people (electrons) is needed. People that are helping or providing services to groups are results of lighter bonding between electrons and groups. The most common way to set strong bonding is to group managers of groups as members of another group with a different manager (hierarchy).
defining electrons that are strongly bonded to a group is an easier task than finding out which electrons are going to be more floating with less bonding to a group. We tend to underestimate the contribution of floating electrons. floating electrons can make the difference between functional and not functional departments, divisions and companies.
How many people that act as electrons taking part in other groups, which groups and how many needed
Now we should have the structure in place, but we still missing an important part, who are the people that need to fill the role of electrons. The chemistry between people creates a strong nucleus. The chemistry between people, their competencies and skill set is also important when we assign people to be electrons of a team.
Defining how many electrons each group needs, how many groups each electron share, and finding the right people; is the most time-consuming task of defining and maintaining structures. If you apply this method to a big group make sure that managers at each level will follow those rules for the groups they responsible for.
What are the atoms and molecules that we didn’t create, but we notice exist in the organization
It doesn’t matter how much energy and control you’ll put in place, you’ll always going to find out groups that created for some reason (not by you). Pay close attention to groups like that. Usually they an indication that you are missing something as an engineer. Because you are engineering an organism and not a machine, the system is trying to adjust and change. Those adjustments can be changes that you are not aware of. Study self-organized groups and make sure you adjusted the structure to accommodate the need you missed.
In the first post in this series, I discussed changing landscapes. The reason that working on the structure is my second post is the causality between the two. Every time that the landscape change it will have an impact on the structure and every time the structure change it will impact the landscape.