Monday, August 18, 2008

Do You Align People or Let Them Align?

People are inherently self organizing. Who did you make friends with when you were a kid on the block? When you went to school, there were many kids in school, but there were a couple who became your friends. Why?

Are you organizing your teams so the become more efficient and effective, like the swimmer on the US relay team? Or are you hampering the very creativity needed for great advancement? Not sure? Think about how insurance or stock exchanges came about.

Why is it Called a Stock Exchange?
In 1680 Jonathan Mills opened a coffee house on Exchange Alley in London. It started attracting like-minded individual who would buy and sell stocks and commodities. By 1698, John Castaing had started posting prices. Taking the street name, Exchanges were born.

A Second Example, Lloyd's
Likewise, around 1688 Edward Lloyd opened his coffeehouse, Lloyd's. It attracted merchants and ship owners. By 1692 it moved to Lombard St and was later incorporated as a society, and insurance was born.

Why Organize the Self Organizing?
If kids can organize a football game all on their own, why inflict organization? Because organized teams beat sandlot teams. Companies are organized to clarify roles and responsibilities. Accounting and Finance are different from sales. Likewise project teams are organized to ensure the right people are in the right roles with the right responsibilities. [Editor: Can't my responsibility be to roll you under?]

In your company and projects', are you organizing to amplify peoples' abilities so the team succeeds and wins the gold?


John Caddell said...

Andrew, I love both your examples, and note that in each case self-organizing had created much of the value. There wasn't a CEO arriving at the office one morning saying "we need a stock market" and directing his subordinates to create one.

I think companies today focus too much on organization, and not enough on emergent capabilities. Companies would be much more innovative if leaders did and more observing and nurturing of interesting new ideas that emerged.

regards, John

Bill Miller said...


I like your thinking on this. You make an excellent point that's difficult to refute on the value of deliberate organization.

I don't know that there is ever complete self organization. Things may start off that way, but eventually a leader emerges and starts to influence and even direct the organization. I believe it's required.

I recall the self organizing games we had as kid. The first thing we did is identify captains, and then the organizing became directed. Someone has to lead, and not everyone can have the same role on a baseball team.

Andrew Meyer said...


thanks, I agree with you, companies spend too much time organizing for the sake of organizing, which tends to crush any emergent capabilities.


thanks, your update actually got me thinking and resulted in the post I'm putting out today. As a kid playing sports with other kids, there was an implicit contract. Yes, we picked captains of the teams, but those captains also did what was best for the team, otherwise they wouldn't be captain in the future.

Why something is done is as important as what is done.

Thank you for helping me think.