I heard a story, an old story, a tedious story, but a story we must face and conquer if we are to move on from this feudal system we call management. Sam got a new job and was full of hope that it would be fulfilling and satisfying and that he could do great things.
Sam's manager Bob turned out to have ideas about the way Sam should do things. This is all Bob had ever known and so he believed that it was the manager's job to have ideas about the way subordinates should do things, and to ensure the subordinates implemented those ideas. Bob had been promoted to manager for some reason and he assumed it was because he had better ideas and so he was given the power over his subordinates to make those ideas happen.
Bob's ideas weren't very good, however. They tended to cling to old technologies because those technologies were familiar. Bob even felt the customers should agree with him and in cases where they didn't, he wanted to force the customer to do it his way.
Sam's ideas about technologies might be a little too forward-thinking. He might not have enough experience to know how many technologies over-promise and under-deliver. But he can't learn these things without experience, and Bob was restricting him, so he grew frustrated.
Sam resolved to go along with Bob's plans for a little while, to placate Bob, just until Sam got into a situation where he could go around Bob's roadblocks, and from then on he would simply avoid Bob, and when he couldn't avoid him he would just smile and nod and then go back to doing what he wanted to do.
I don't know whether Sam succeeds or fails in his strategy. I don't know how much time and money is spent within corporations on this kind of political maneuvering (it seems like more and more as you go up the power hierarchy) but it's way too much, because every moment of it takes away from fulfillment for the individual and productivity for the company.
One thing I do know: Any potential benefit from interaction between Sam and Bob is destroyed by this structure.
Suppose that, instead of Bob being able to control Sam, his only mission is to serve Sam. Suppose that Bob knows that all the people on his team will be maximally productive if Bob does his utmost to clear the path for them, get the best tools for them, and reduce any difficulties they have with the organizational structure outside the team. Instead of being cogs in a machine that Bob designs, the team members are explorers in the worlds that Bob opens up (Bob also ensures that the people accepted onto his team are ready for this opportunity).
This is an entirely different version of Bob, and the old Bob probably can't be magically transformed into the new one. Like a biological organism, the power hierarchy reproduces itself wherever it can and the meme has been strongly invested in Bob: Power is the reward for submitting to power.
The result is that the organization is a chessboard, and everyone spends far too much of their energies and the corporation's resources bound in this endless, fruitless game. This is why it takes so much more time-and-people resources to get anything done in a large organization vs. a small one. You reach a tipping point and suddenly far more of your resources go to "playing the game" (I don't even have to translate that phrase; managers know exactly what I'm talking about). In exchange for the (perceived) security of the large organization, you fritter your life away.
We have far too many organizational charts that look like Microsoft's in this cartoon.
If Sam knew he could go to Bob whenever he needed help or advice or ideas, and he would come away better off, not told what to do, but empowered and enlightened, then Sam would always want a connection with Bob. And Bob wouldn't be Sam's boss but Sam's help and resource and mentor.
So once again I find myself asking: "How do we create an organizational structure that creates and promotes these kinds of behaviors and connections, and quickly repairs and corrects when a part of the structure begins to drift from this goal?"