Command, Control, And The Changing Workplace

Organizational and people management has perennially been a favorite topic of writers and researchers. Even the Bible tells a story of how Moses’ father-in-law gave him advice about management and delegation of tasks! For much of the 20th century, a top-down, command-and-control style of management was favored, with a primary focus on efficiency and output. This once revolutionary approach produced a variety of successes, including General Motors’ rise to prominence and the United States’ production and provisioning of material for itself and its allies during World War II.

In the latter portion of the 20th century, however, this approach began to demonstrate a key weakness — namely, its inability to respond to informational, societal, and technological shifts. An accelerating pace of change brought on by computerization, the internet, the proliferation of information, and the resulting exchange of ideas — and the expectations that all this fueled — required a shift in management approach.

Increasing Complexity Requires A Team Approach

Good top-down decision-making has always been limited by the breadth of knowledge of those at the top. As the 20th century came to a close, and it became apparent that no one was all-knowing or all-seeing enough to keep ahead of these changes, it is telling that in 2019, the American Enterprise Institute identified only 52 companies that appeared on the initial Fortune 500 list in 1955 and were still present 64 years later.

Organizations have been searching for better ways to address these changes. While adjustments to this new reality began to develop in the late 20th century, the widespread adoption of agile methodologies and a move away from sequential, exhaustively documented specifications helped to bring about a decline in the siloed, command-and-control structure. Instead, there was now a movement toward small, empowered, multidisciplinary teams. These came to prominence due to their focus on continuous discovery of buyer and user needs. The results of these changes were a more successful delivery of the highest-value products and services in an accelerated fashion.

Consider The Benefits Of Empowered Teams

Forrester recommends that organizations either start or step up a move toward these types of teams. But you might ask, “What benefits can you potentially gain from empowered teams?” There are many, including expedited innovation, accelerated customer value delivery, improved speed to market, and a greater level of innovation and creativity, which can all lead to a more rewarding work environment.

You might also ask, “What are the characteristics of these empowered teams?” First, they are multidisciplinary and should include representatives from key product development functions, including product management, engineering/development, and customer experience. Additionally, they should remain stable, seek to regularly solve problems and validate their solutions with customers, and be as independent as possible in order to deliver value in an expedited manner.

To continue the conversation and learn more about the characteristics and benefits of empowered teams, please reach out to us.