People who know me understand that the chain of command is the only management structure for me. It is the only management structure that has stood the rigours of time, proven itself robust, and I am confident will outlive any “woke” management system that falls out of the back of some student union bar somewhere in the world tomorrow.
For those youngsters amongst you who believe the chain of command concept should be placed in a museum or wiped from the history books like other parts of our history that they currently find distasteful. Remember, the chain of command structure was used on the field of battle, it won you the freedoms you should be thankful to enjoy today.
As an old veteran, I often fall back on my training in the military and use that training in my day-to-day life. As a manager, my team understands and accepts the chain of command, and I often find myself re-educating my manager that I only want one boss who will tell me what is required of me.
What is the chain of command, and why is it important?
For Clarity among the non-military readers, I want to address this from a civilian point of view (for a minute).
A chain of command is an organisation’s overarching structure that explains how people relate to each other in a business and to whom they report. Traditionally at the top of the organisation chart, you will find the CEO and the second in line below him, such as the CFO or COO.
Moving down the chart, you will see the managers followed by the team leaders and eventually the regular staff members.
What are the three chains of command?
In a military environment, there are three tiers of command. Strategic, operational and tactical. In the civilian world, this works out as Top-Level management, middle-level management and front-line managers.
So from the above, you can easily see that the CEO, COO and CFO or the Top-level managers are looking at the company’s strategic position and how they move forward. The middle-level managers take the strategies developed above them and ensure the orders are given to the correct areas of the company. Such as the senior NCOs taking the commanding officer’s orders and issuing them out to the correct teams. Then the junior NCOs or front-line managers take these orders and complete the tasks with their teams.
Simple, effective, no pink and fluffy ribbons and works.
What are the advantages of the chain of command?
- It’s highly efficient. It shows employees who to report to, who to take instruction and who to seek advice. Their remit is clear and stops them from stepping outside their bounds.
- It supports all employees. Every employee sees their position in the organisation chart and can see their career path. Understanding their capacity for growth and movement in the company goes a long way toward engaging them.
- It simplifies delegation. Delegation inside the chain of command is very simple. You give orders to the employee below you and take orders from the manager above you. In other words it is in black and white, therefore there are no misunderstandings around their position.
- It creates accountability and clarity. The manager understands that the above orders must be followed and carried out. Failure to do this lands firmly with the manager or employee who failed to follow the orders. Employees are not confused about who they need to approach for resources, feedback or help.
- It standardises communication. The communication pathways up and down are clear. This keeps the structure formal, and the lines are firmly drawn in the sand. Everyone knows their role and position and who they need to listen to.
Contemporary Matrix Structure
Ok, so even though I would like to call the “Matrix” management structure a “fad”, I am loathed to admit it is just not going away. I truly wish it would, but for certain types of managers, it is a gift from the gods.
Unlike the chain of command, the matrix management structure gives you two bosses. So instead of trying to keep one manager happy you need to spread your loyalty between the two. You end up with a Project manager and a functional manager.
So when you end up with orders from both sides, demanding instant attention, who do you deal with first?
Confusion is rife in the matrix as people are unsure who does what, who they go to for advice and assistance and who is responsible for the outcome of the company strategies?
So with this confusion, you encourage power struggles between the functional and project managers.
Enter “Game of Managers”
Most of us have seen Game of Thrones. If I didn’t know better, I would guess that George R. R. Martin came from the corporate world.
The company with the matrix system embedded will have the assassins, the kings and queens and the soldiers. All fighting for power.
Fun aside, though. The matrix system, as I intimated above, will hide bad managers. It removes accountability and consequence and allows power players to decide if and when they will follow the strategies sent down from above.
We end up in a situation where managers won’t decide unless it is by a committee and will never accept their own failures as they fully believe everything succeeds or fails by consensus.
Within a standard chain of command structure, you will never be able to keep everyone happy. However, you will, spot the unhappy/disengaged employee very quickly. Remedy this issue, you will find peace, harmony, and your bottom line will improve.
The matrix system will harbour defiant managers and bad leadership practices and can end in a toxic workplace where apart from not knowing why your bottom line is appalling, your attrition rate is through the roof.
Management will discuss the Company strategies and requirements and they will decide if they want to implement it or not.
In summary, if the Matrix system worked, the military would have adopted it. However, if you are still undecided about the chain of command structure, then just think of a typical battlefield. Red army one side and blue the other. Imagine trying to command the battle from a matrix structure system where all your commands are discussed, put to committee and then acted on or not by the general consensus.