The bias against alternative organisational structures

Important caveat: I don’t know much about the background to the GitHub debacle; I’m taking this article as an example of built-in bias in reporting about different organisational structures.

Ferriss wheel

On the surface of it, this is a ‘nothing’ article. Oh, OK, GitHub has abandoned its ‘bossless’, no-hierarchy workplace in favour of having people in charge of various things. So what?

Dig under the surface, though, and you see the institutional bias against such things. People who work with or for organisations that have hierarchies have a vested interest in that form of structure continuing. There’s a definite type of person who does well within hierarchies — and others (like me) who don’t.

This paragraph from Melissa Mittelman, Bloomberg Technology reporter, is particularly revealing:

As GitHub has grown to about 600 employees, it says a flat organization compromised its ability to get things done. GitHub says coordination by the heads of the engineering, legal, marketing, sales, and other departments has been crucial to recent achievements, including the ability to open-source more projects than before, increase the frequency of some product updates to quarterly, and secure a major partnership this year with IBM.

My emphasis. Notice the lack of direct quotation here. I’d say, given a ‘new broom’ was applied in the form of one of the original co-founders coming back as CEO, it’s better understood as a crisis response to a specific problem. There were problems around gender bias in the organisation, and the quickest and easiest way to change that if you’re coming in as a new CEO is through compliance, not culture change.

All forms of minimum viable bureaucracy depend on having the best talent at your disposal, and building a strong culture. If you’re lacking either of those, it’s always going to take longer to fix any problem you have via democratic means. It doesn’t serve as an example that this kind of approach has ‘failed’.

Image via Nomad Pictures