Levels and Layers

Len Nanjad is a fascinating guy. We were fortunate enough to lunch with him the other day at one of our regular monthly luncheon events, and I walked away with my head swirling with ideas.  From my particularly conflict-centric view of the world, I know that clarifying roles and responsibilities is one of the most important things we can do to mitigate team conflict.

Len had some very interesting things to say about roles and responsibilities. Did you know that within the Roman Catholic Church, that very complex multi-national organization, there are only 7 layers of management? And that, says Len, is the optimal number. What is magic about the number 7, you wonder? It is nothing to do with the Catholic Church, and everything to do with the levels of complexity of different jobs.

I like the coffee shop analogy. Your barista has to remember your order and execute it in a timely and efficient fashion so you can get out of there and head to your next meeting. Your barista’s boss has to order the milk and the coffee beans and ensure the equipment is working.  The owner of the coffee shop has to pay the barista, and the manager, and the rent on the space, and ensure everyone has a job to wake up to the next morning. There are 3 levels of complexity in this example.

any moment now . . . .

So as Len pointed out to us, in a hierarchy everyone has work, and work is a thinking process. Depending how much you have to think about, you are in a different level of complexity. Another way to think about it is to consider about how many levels of responsibility you have accountability for.

I am really getting into the swing of this now, and I have visions in my head of all these corporate structures: columns, pyramids, and matrices. But from a very practical point of view, once you understand levels and layers, you can identify a few common places where conflict and problems start. For one, too many layers of management dealing with a single level of complexity (a Jam-Up) is built into 38% of all designs. I can see that it causes inefficiencies. Two, a system can be designed with no workers for one identified level of complexity (a Gap). This is a dangerous situation found in 18% of organizations, according to Len.

Yikes. I can see ensuing stress that leads to conflict. You see it in government a lot – too many layers of management, resulting in frustrated employees and low empowerment. This is a situation that seems to occur with the thrust to collective decision-making. I guess taken to an extreme, it becomes the downside of collaboration?

So many things to think about. If you would like to read more, reach out to Len Nanjad at Core International. There are interesting articles and videos on his website.


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