I often warn about the dangers of self-management, but does that mean that a command and control structure is the best alternative? There is a tendency to think of organization design as falling into one of those two categories: self-management or command and control. However, I believe that there is a better, third approach.
Command and Control
In the more traditional command and control structure, all of the decisions in an organization are made at the top. The CEO makes decisions, which are passed down through a chain of command, and everyone in the organization is lockstep in line with those decisions, doing exactly what they’re told without the freedom to make judgment calls of their own or offer feedback.
While the command and control approach to management may work in small organizations where the CEO knows all of the employees and work that needs to be done, it actually breaks down in larger organizations. The misperception that command and control is a workable system is number seven on our list of The Top 12 Fallacies That Get In The Way of Organizational Performance.
Why Command and Control Structures Don’t Work
As an organization grows and the CEO becomes further removed from the frontline, a command and control structure can lead to a situation where the decisions being made at the top of the organization are no longer relevant to the work taking place lower in the organization. In large organizations, the CEO simply cannot be aware of everything that goes on. By trying to make all of the decisions at the top, they may fail to take into account factors at the frontline that they’re unaware of.
Top-down decision-making also becomes problematic when a manager runs into something unexpected at the frontline. When that frontline manager doesn’t have the authority to make a decision regarding the issue, they have to send it all the way back up to the top of the organization. Then, when a decision is reached, it has to come all the way back down the organization to the frontline. This wastes an enormous amount of time, and inhibits the organization’s ability to respond to issues in a timely fashion.
A More Effective Management Structure
Command and control and self-management aren’t effective approaches to management. For a management structure to be effective, there must be an accountability and authority framework in place. The CEO is accountable for executing strategy. For this to happen, every manager in the organization must have appropriately delegated accountability and authority, and the context to make decisions and take initiatives in ways that are consistent with the strategy. In addition to an accountability and authority framework, feedback loops are also essential to keeping the lines of communication open, both across the organization and from the top to the bottom.
Command and control structures just don’t work. In large organizations it is simply not possible for all decisions to be made at the top. While a command and control structure may be more controllable, it is far less flexible in the environment, and ultimately, ineffective.