The Secret Connection Between Your Daily Commute And Organizational Design

Ever wonder why you got to work so quickly on Monday morning but heading home looks like a nightmare on the same day? Or realize you got to work super fast on a March day because all the kids are on Spring break? If you are like me, you probably spend time stuck in traffic looking up what’s happening that causes the ebb and flow of traffic. For instance, when Pope Francis came to bless the Catholics of Washington, DC the jams were miles long and one highway was shutdown to single riders.

We know how events like a Papal visit or a playoff game effects traffic but what’s the connection to the structure of your organization? Today I want to share with you what I have learned about this connection.

Organizations are structured by carefully calculating and re-structuring based on each people manager’s Span of Control and and Number of Layers.

Number of Layers is defined as the number of layers between the Vice Presidents and Supervisors or Analysts in an organization structure. Span of Control is more focused on how many people report to each People Manager.

If you look closely at the management ranks of many Fortune 500 corporations, you’ll see this unfortunate phenomenon: excessive layers and narrow spans of control, particularly among mid-level directors and managers. The result is often bureaucratic buildup, bottle-necked decision making, and a general lack of innovation.1

Along with others that have studied this in large and medium corporations, I have found that an organization can avoid these issues by applying the magic formula each firm has perfected to reap the benefits. But I am here to share with you a very interesting side-effect that I discovered in my data analysis.

While interviewing the People Managers and Supervisors, we go off a list of pre-determined questions and one of those questions over time has been some variation of: “Do you encourage your direct reports to work remotely? How often? And why?”

We found that there was a correlation between remote-friendly managers and the span of control. Managers with a span of control less than 7-8 direct reports are 4 times more likely to encourage remote work. While we don’t know the cause of this, the effect is very real. That is more people on the road driving to work, congesting the highways because the boss is overwhelmed with the number of people that report to them. This gets even worse as you go up the chain of command. Vice Presidents and middle-managers are even less likely to be remote-friendly.

Next time, you are stuck in traffic and there is no scheduled Papal visit, blame the pyramid structure at your company for the extra cars on the road.

Lets start a conversation about Halocracy as an alternative to the pyramid structure, click Contact Us…



1.      Management Spans and Layers: Streamlining the Out-of-Shape Organization,by Ian Buchanan, Jong Hyun Chang, Vinay Couto, Gary Neilson, Paolo Pigorini, Joe Saddi, Jens Schädler, Eng-Ming Tan, and Akira Uchida,Booz Allen Hamilton, 2003.

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