Five Org Design Things N° 2
Expensive communications loops; Edgerati; Leaders are awesome; The purpose of Gawker; Apple's operational effectiveness.
Expensive Communications Loops
This is an excerpt from a lovely Medium piece about the trouble with distributed teams. The problem identified here is “Expensive Communications Loops.”
Technology for sharing problem spaces and collaborating online remains error-prone, buggy and unwieldy. Workers are typically in different time zones, with different working hours. Soft interrupts — leaning over to the person across from you, quick whiteboarding sessions, questions lobbed across a room — become hard interrupts. Chat messages, Skype calls, scheduled meetings. Multiply these factors in situations where multiple people, multiple sources of feedback, and multiple functional teams are required to complete projects. Distributed teams can carry a much larger coordination cost than centralized teams. Planning meetings, holding meetings, struggling with shitty collaboration and conferencing technologies, creating and distributing status updates, cross-company communication, and the cost of ambient online chatter adds up fast. Suddenly tasks like getting approvals, doing design and content reviews, gut-checking an idea, introducing a new project, brainstorming and whiteboarding and other work that benefits from a tight communications loop become time-consuming and frustrating.
This is a core reason why big companies struggle at The Internet, especially when they rely on outside partners to do a bulk of their digital work for them. In those cases, it’s not just that they have a distributed team, it’s that the distributed team has parts that carry their own overhead, their own business goals, and their own motivations. And when the contract runs out, or the relationship sours, all the institutional learning that the partners have gained goes away.
Not to mention the fact that you lose proximity and speed.
Edges can take many forms. Three primary edges are geographic (emerging economies and developing talent spikes), demographic (younger generations entering markets and the workforce) and technological (new waves of technological innovation). A hallmark of edges is the ability to scale innovations rapidly in ways that challenge and ultimately transform the core of our economies and societies. This process of edge-core transformation is accelerating. For this reason, edges are vitally important to understand even though it is easy in the early stages of edge emergence to dismiss them as marginal and uninteresting.
This exists, and I’m happier for it. Also the list of Edgerati is a good reading list if you want to want to get hired at Undercurrent.
Leaders are Awesome
At Github, Tom described a setup where the power structure of the company is defined by the social structures of the employees. He showed a network hairball to illustrate his point, said that Github employees can work on what they feel like, subject to the strategic direction set for the company. There are no managers.
This bothered me a bit when I heard it last summer, and it’s gotten increasingly more uncomfortable since. I’ve been paraphrasing this part of the talk as “management is a form of workplace violence,” and the still-evolving story of Julie Ann Horvath suggests that the removal of one form of workplace violence has resulted in the reintroduction of another, much worse form.
The title of this article is “Managers are Awesome”. I’d argue that “Managers” are terrible, and “Leaders” are awesome. Managers are a relic of command-and-control structures, and if we play it right, we won’t need them anymore.
Editor's note, nearly a decade on: we do need supportive structures that prevent obviously bad things from happening. This doesn't mean we need managers. But we do need something. (1/3/23)
The Purpose of Gawker
Reading about the new Kinja yesterday, I noticed that they linked back to this article from 2012. Really good input for discussions on Purpose » Platform.
From the foundation ten years ago, Gawker and its sibling titles were intended to give readers a direct connection to writers — and through them a deeper understanding of events and the way the world works.
That brings us to technology — and the organization’s future. Blog publishing software — first adapted from publicly available platforms and then our own — has permitted much of the editorial innovation we have brought to online media. Spontaneous publishing to a mass audience and measurement of the performance of both articles and contributors: these are just the two of the most profound improvements in process underpinned by our technology effort in New York and Budapest.
But we are still at the beginning of our mission to bring real editorial and commercial conversation to a wider public. Even at Gawker there are interactions — between journalists, sources, protagonists and readers — that never make it to the page.
Apple & Operational Effectiveness
[Apple are] doing more not by changing their thousand-no’s-for-every-yes ratio, but by upping their capacity.
The turning point is clear. The headline of Apple’s October 2012 press release said it all: “Apple Announces Changes to Increase Collaboration Across Hardware, Software and Services”. It turns out that was not an empty bromide, meant to patch over run-of-the-mill corporate political conflict. Tim Cook wanted Apple to function internally in a way that was anathema to Scott Forstall’s leadership style. The old way involved fiefdoms, and Forstall’s fiefdom was iOS. The operational efficiency Cook wanted — and now seems to have achieved — wasn’t possible without large scale company-wide collaboration, and collaboration wasn’t possible with a fiefdom style of organization.
So much yes.