Hubs and Spokes

Last week I looked at the difference between leadership and management. This week I want to consider the evolution from loose entrepreneurial management to a more structured hierarchy.

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 organisational 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?
  • How is the current structure impeding your ability to make decisions?