There is a limit to what makes a good structure of an organisation: 1,000. It’s why regiments are 1,000 in size; this is purposely done as it’s only three tiers deep:
Teams of ten (10 people)
Managers of 10 teams (10 x 10 = 100)
Leaders of 10 Managers (100 x 10)
Regiments have been this size forever and a day because of the simple logic of communication, control and action. It is far easier to create impact and instructions to be heard when there are only 10 people to speak to and 10 people to listen to.
Structures over three tiers deep being to experience rampant miscommunication, whether that is whispers, gossip, too many pointless emails or simply because we don’t have the human intellect to go past three tiers. Is anyone really that clever that they are worth the fourth tier over the third and so forth? Certainly it is possible BUT for as many as 1,000+ organisations in the world, does the intellect stretch past three tiers? Experience would say no but it’s a subjective debate.
When industrialisation was born what could not have been anticipated was the computer age and how that would affect the model, because the model was created within the context of the technology of machinery and factories of that time. With capitalism as the backbone of an industrialised society, everything was built based on economic growth which called for purely rational decisions based on efficiency and cost-benefit analysis. Capitalism was very positive at the time but ultimately brought a lot of social drawbacks as it encouraged growth of company sizes as much as economic growth. It moved us from a socialised, localised set up to the globalisation of today, not that globalisation is bad per se, but we should debate the cost to the individual.
Max Weber - one of the founding fathers of sociology - talked about the ‘Iron Cage’, how he saw it:
Modern industrial society brought technological and economic advances
But this was accompanied by increased rationalisation and a bureaucratic structure.
That imposed new controls, restricted individual freedoms and eroded community and kinship ties.
Bureaucratic efficiency has stifled traditional interactions, trapping us in an “iron cage of rationality”
He was also convinced of (and predicted) the effects on the individual “Cogs in the Machine”. It's literally the world we know today: too many rules, too much Rationalism and all pushing the individual away.
When you combine this model with the 1,000 maximum regiment structure you can see why employees are not engaged and why miscommunication occurs so readily once businesses reach a size of over 1,000 employees.
That Industrialisation and Rationalism make workers feel overloaded and like they’re not listened to is further exacerbated because the tools have changed. The tools of yesteryear were as simple as the boss speaking to the team, the computer age magnified the issue with tools like email which just resulted in every tier communicating to everyone, downstream, making miscommunications worse not better. This is further exacerbated by the fact that digital text communication technology like email offers no tone, no meaning, no feeling and the impact is lost and is perceived via the mood of the recipient, not the intent of the sender.
Slack is an example of technology making this a little bit easier as it has reverse-engineered the idea of email folders. Reverse-engineering is simplification of purpose; think about the fact that each different Slack channel has specific communication purpose; people go into the relevant ‘folder’ by proxy of being in a channel about topic X, Y or Z. It’s now less on the shoulder of the recipient to have to interpret what the message is about (and thus which email folder to put it in - which you intend to, but never get around to looking at again).
Having a limit of 10 people on a team is good because communication is within that team, as is trust, as is the psychological intent of feeling your voice is heard. The same is true for meetings. Anytime there are more than 10 (and if it’s not a team meeting) it’s too many, which risks the most dominant voices being heard - and that’s not necessarily hearing the best answers, it’s just the most dominant voices.
The other core thing is that all communication needs to feel bidirectional. Filling out Employee Engagement surveys rammed with decision fatigue (often deliberately, as when we feel fatigued we will answer more positively just to get it over with - beware the long survey!). It’s not about clearing the deck or defending your department, job, self. However, it is about understanding and having an awareness of the receiver. This is not just a rule for email, it's about the tools that we use to communicate and how we use them.
The context is simple; if you behave towards me as I want, then I will feel more loyal, engaged and will hangout with you more because you are a good pal.
When you behave in ways I don’t like or enjoy, I disengage and that manifests itself as I stop visiting you as often (I buy less or I am less productive).
Communication without meaning and understanding of the individual is a profit-killer. The intents of Capitalism, Industrialisation and Rationalism have come full circle and tripped themselves up so that they’ve achieved the opposite of their original goals.
We can’t always account for tomorrow's change when we model for today but we can still win, we just need to adapt. It just needs you to get a little more personal and to think about what you do and what it means to the individual you intend to serve.