The Informal Organization
Jon Katzenbach is a co-author of one of my favorite books, The Wisdom of Teams. He was a consultant at McKinsey and then created his own firm, Katzenbach Partners. They have recently released a report, titled The Informal Organization, that addresses some critical issues in a way I find refreshing and important.
The basic thesis is simple: how things get done in organizations is a coin with two sides. On the formal side you have org charts, rules, policies, and procedures. On the informal side you have people, relationships, work-arounds, and how things really happen. All organizations have both sides of this coin, but the informal side too often gets ignored. Here’s an extensive quote:
Here is what the formal is good at: creating efficiency, clarifying authority, communicating priorities, and aligning the rational behaviors of an organization’s employees with its common objectives. The formal organization is the lines and boxes that illustrate the official structures of power and paths of decision-making. It is the master of alignment because it can be written down, electronically shared, and described. The formal organization is best leveraged in situations where tolerance for inconsistency is low and control is essential. …
Here is what the informal is good at: motivating people to go above and beyond their job duties, communicating information quickly, engaging employees in collaborative work, and making changes stick. The informal structure is the complex web of relationships, influences, interactions, and judgment calls that make a company what it is—the real, productive tensions that constitute the difference between getting things done and getting things done a lot better than anyone else.
I think this ties back in to my post a few days ago about love (you should really read the comments there, by the way, they are excellent). Taking the informal organization seriously is frequently (though not always) the key to making huge leaps in effectiveness. There is more leverage there since it has not been the focus traditionally. But that means looking at and talking about things that have not traditionally been considered part of the working world.
I love this report (I know I’ll blog more about it) and you can request a copy from Katzenbach Partners here.