Effortless English Archives

Automatic English For The People

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Turn That Pyramid Upside Down

by AJ

The traditional organizational structure:

1. Big boss (Director, Dean, whatever): The top. Makes the important decisions. Controls the budget. Controls the information (who gets to know what). Has final say, and veto power, over all program decisions.

2. Teachers: Below the big boss. Follow the boss' general guidelines.... but are the bosses in their class. Control the choice of activities, the evaluation of students, the syllabus, the classroom schedule, teaching priorities, etc.

3. Staff: Below the Boss and Teachers... handle administrative duties... but really no decision making authority.. except over small, daily admin activities.

4. Students: The bottom. No decision making power. No access to information. Basically are told to show up and do what they are told.

This is an inferior organizational structure. It breeds an organization that is slow to innovate... which drains passion & energy from teachers, staff, and students.

Luckily, there is another way. Turn that pyramid upside-down. This is not just the idea of a malcontent teacher (ie, me :) ..... its also the hard-nosed business advice of many management gurus. From egomaniac greedy capitalist Jack Welch (GE's former CEO), to passionate management guru Tom Peters, to Apple computer's Steve Jobs, to internet marketing whiz Seth Godin.... a growing number of cutting edge businesspeople are recognizing the power of "flat organizations". They recognize that an army-like command & control structure is toxic to any organization that depends on innovation and "brain power".

Yes, we still need that Director... but his/her role changes from "boss" to facilitator/visionary/coordinator/supporter. Rather than horde information and decision making power, the director enthusiastically decentralizes it.

Yes, we still need teachers (well, I hope)... but our roles change from "king of the classroom" to coach/consultant/trainer/mentor. We shift from control to collaboration. We mutually create a curriculum, syllabus, study plan, and evaluation plan (evaluating teacher and students). We take an active role in program decision making.... and are encouraged to innovate enthusiastically.

The staff's role expands considerably.... beyond shuffling papers to gathering and analyzing data, coordinating with teachers & students, and sharing in decision making re: the overall program. Strict "job descriptions" blur.

In the upside-down school, the students rise to the top.... they become the driving force of school innovation. They (representatives... or all of them) join staff meetings. They work with their teachers as equal members of a team to design a curriculum that works for everyone. They take responsibility for problems and improvements. They actively innovate on their own. They become the sales and marketing force.

This kind of structure works. I have been blessed to work for ONE organization like this... and it was, without a doubt, the most innovative, energetic, ambitious, and inspiring job Ive ever had.

It was a tiny social work organization dedicated to helping homeless and at-risk teens. We had a shelter for runaways and for abused children who'd been taken from their families. We also had a number of community/prevention/education programs. Our tiny staff was young & hyper-motivated.... and blessed with an exceptional director. She articulated an overall mission. She was excellent at her specific job duties (raising money, community relations, grant writing & management).

What made her special, however, was her insistence that her staff make decisions and innovate. She didnt want us waiting around for permission. She didnt want us waiting around for orders. And she did not obsess about mistakes. When failures did occur, she always backed up her staff... never complained. Rather, she used mistakes as a means to help the organization grow. And just to show how serious she was about decentralization... she insisted that our Board of Directors include a teenager (and former client).

Her approach instilled an attitude of fearlessness in us. We became excited. Our passion and dedication grew month by month. We often shared ideas. We encouraged each other, helped each other. We were a tight-knit team, working together for a purpose: social workers, secretary, interns, house parents, and even the accountant (who often pitched in with the kids).

If not for this experience, Id probably consider Tom Peters' ideas to be great in theory, but not practical. But Ive seen his ideas put into action...

It was a remarkable experience... one I hope to repeat someday, should I fund my own program.