I recently read the book XLR8 (Accelerate) by John Kotter. I like his work on managing change. In this new book, he starts with the proposition that agility and speed come from a shadow network of people that connect across the traditional silos and hierarchies. This network operates in parallel with the formal structure and drives innovation and agility.
This is what we call the “soft structure” that evolves within a formal organization structure to get things done. In “Making the Matrix Work” I distinguish between four types of soft structure – purposeful networks, cloud communities, star groups and spaghetti teams. We agree with Kotter that formal organization structure is slow; blunt instruments are getting things done and the shadow soft structure is how things really work in complex organizations.
One of the reasons why organizational structure changes often don’t help is that they disrupt these soft structures and can actually make them harder to operate. Is it not enough though just to call these all “networks” because each of these four modes of cooperation are suitable for delivering very different goals and require very different management and systems support?
The resilience of the traditional hierarchy also makes it hard for these soft structures to attract resources and get things done. In particular, they experience a power imbalance with the functional and geographic silos. Resolving this is one of the reasons why organizations introduce some form of matrix structure. It may not solve the problem but it does give an environment in which these trade-offs can be managed.
The rest of Kotter’s book focuses on the challenges of change, his traditional area of research.
Source: “XLR8 (Accelerate)“: by John Kotter.