work life
October 29, 2022

Distributed power

Many large organizations have a dysfunctional distribution of power.

By design, top-level management understands long-term high-level vision but doesn’t know about the details. Similarly, low management understands the low-level details but doesn’t have unfiltered access to long-term goals.

Although there could be a balance between those two aspects of organizational management, it rarely materializes.


Low managers might lack the context to understand high-level vision. This could have even if they had access to this information. However, most companies are designed to hide this information from low-level management.

The imbalance comes from the power structure. Upper management has power over the high-level vision, which they have unique access to, but they also have power over the low-level details.

“The persons on the spot usually have better knowledge than can those at the top and hence can often (not always) make better decisions if things are not micromanaged. The people at the bottom do not have the larger, global view, but at the top they do not have the local view of all the details, many of which can often be very important, so either extreme gets poor results.”

—Richard W.Hamming, The Art of Doing Science and Engineering

Power is not uniformly distributed. Instead, it is concentrated on the top, and then lent to the bottom layers. Low management operates within the limited confines of their given locality. They can make decisions and execute after the high-level direction has been set from above.

Lower management is limited even with decisions that affect their own group alone.

This unbalance will always manifest in organizations where top management is too far removed from the day-to-day operations and restricts information flow.

Why not create better success metrics based on results and empower teams to own more decisions? Teams might stumble until they find their local optimum but now they have the leeway to find it.

October 29, 2022 · #work life


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