Actually, there always is at least one hierarchy in any group.
It’s in human nature to enter a room and look around to figure out where power is located. It serves us to stay safe. By understanding where power is located, we understand our environment and decide on our attachment to that group. Status is then how we define our relationship to others as well as theirs to us. It is an almost automatic process, one we even may have to make ourselves aware of.
This process works well for smaller groups or groups within groups.
It becomes more difficult to be handled, when the group grows or when there is a need to interact with other groups. That’s when a need to clarify roles arises and hierarchies become public. Having such public hierarchies then led to the desire to make it easier to have a status. Titles were born and became widely used. Status now could be signaled loud and clear.
They replaced the natural hierarchy making it easier to stay in a given status. Transforming status into roles in the process and establishing what we now know as organigrams within organizations.
Some of which have become highly complicated, seemingly transforming fast and well-working organizations into bureaucracies.
What’s interesting about a bureaucracy is, that once one knows the person willing to help we’ve found a different flow of power in that organization. The official organigram has been overruled. It is still active and acting, but it starts to compete with a different way of exercising power.
I was reminded of this while attending a meeting of one of the associations I’m a member of. By some chance, we started talking about decisions the board would have to make. In this, a conflict appeared. One party was suggesting to be careful to follow the rules according to the bylaws. The other party suggested that sticking to the rules prevented them from acting. As it became visible, one of the parties had a personal interest and was using the organization’s purpose to justify it. It is very much possible to assume that he was trying to do the right thing. At the same time, he was dismissing the risk to lose the member’s commitment to the organization.
While we’ll always have and need hierarchies, our task is to make them work. Hierarchies are there to serve the organization’s purpose. They are there to assist the members in doing the work they committed themselves to.
That, most often is the misunderstanding when reorganizations start to reorganize their hierarchy. They either seek to give everyone a spot or they try to make the hierarchy work in itself.
Forgetting what the hierarchy is there for.