Hubs and Spokes

I’ve been thinking a lot about the challenges of decentralized decision-making. Here’s one aspect.
Most start-up organizations, including new nonprofits, resemble a wheel with a hub (the founders and top management) and spokes (the functional departments). Information comes in from the spokes, and decisions are sent back out to the spokes. People at the ends of spokes are often unsure of who’s in charge or who has what authority, and they often don’t have the latest information on what’s going on along the other spokes.
As organizations grow the people on the spokes get more and more distant from the hub and also isolated from the other spokes. This demands a transition to a more hierarchical structure—one or two top leaders cannot successfully manage a hub-and-spoke structure past a fairly small size.
Management is responsible for establishing an organizational structure and functional processes. A manager tunes the structure and process to fit the work and the people, then urges employees to make their own decisions and accept responsibility for them. They will make mistakes, but you must continue to support them. They will stop making decisions if you step in and fix situations for them, or punish them for reporting a problem.
  • Would you describe your organization’s management structure as primarily “hub and spokes” or hierarchical?
  • Is the current structure impeding staff’s ability to make decisions?