People Stuff: The Layers in All Organizations

Grand Canyon

My last post introduced an optional fourth dimension, time span, to the notion of “capacity” in terms of making sure someone is right for a seat.  Today, I am going to share some food for thought regarding the implications of time span capacity and your Accountability Chart.

If you accept the notion that every seat has a time span capacity for each of the roles associated with it, you will probably not be surprised to learn that the vast majority of us – regardless of political, economic, cultural or social systems – strongly prefer to be led by someone with a longer time span capacity than someone with a time span capacity equal to or less than our own.

In fact, you probably won’t be to surprised to learn that in his 55-year study of time span capacity, Elliot Jaques consistently observed that subordinates working for managers with the same time span capacity almost always looked to someone else within the organization as their real manager because they didn’t perceive their “on-paper” manager as having sufficient context to lead and/or manage them effectively.  I suspect you don’t find this shocking since many of us have personally experienced this at some point in our careers.

Now, here is where it gets really interesting…

Jaques also uncovered what he referred to as a “universal, underlying pattern of stratification” in managerial hierarchies; specifically, that there were clear-cut boundaries that demarcated true managerial layers or “strata,” as he called them.  These boundaries were found at time spans of 3 months, 1 year, 2 years, 5 years, 10 years, 20 years, and 50 years.

In other words, even the largest organizations in the world should have no more than seven managerial layers, unless they find it useful to employ needless “in-between” persons who inevitably will be regarded as “straw bosses,” “administrators,” or something other than the real manager.

This applies to all organizations, including militaries.  Want some proof?  In 1982, Collin Powell presented Jaques with the Joint Staff Certificate of Appreciation for his “outstanding contributions in the field of military leadership theory and instruction to all of the service departments of the United States.”

For me, time-span capacity is a BIG IDEA with huge implications, more of which I will touch upon in weeks to come.  Give it some thought in terms of your own organization.  I suspect it can’t hurt.

Until next time, may you build with passion and confidence.

2 Comments

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. People stuff: time span capacity in management - Blog - December 18, 2014 (10:21 am)

    […] – i.e. that he/she clears your cultural bar and GWCs the role) – and started to drill into the layers or strata of your Accountability Chart. In summary, I suggested that time span capacity is the predominant characteristic separating one […]

  2. People Stuff: The Pros and Cons of Building an A-Player Organization - Blog - January 29, 2015 (12:21 am)

    […] determine, especially if you buy into the broader theory associated with time span capacity and the time spans associated with each layer of an organization. Allow me to drill a little into the […]

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