Time Magazine this week has a cover article on the bad rap “real Wisconsin” butter has taken over the past 40 years.

But I’m not here to rehash that debate.

How much organizational structure is the correct amount for any entity? My experience seems to validate my beliefs that the smaller the organization the less structure. As the entity grows in complexity or size then organizationally additional structure is needed to:

  • Ensure the left hand knows what the right is doing
  • Oversee execution of the common vision across disparate functions
  • Ensure no cross-purposes
  • Gain efficiencies through coordinated effort

In light of the purposes above one might logically conclude that too much organization can never be a bad thing. However over-organization can stifle the very thing is proposes to promote. As with everything mankind lays hand to, it can take on a life of its own. However, this phenomenon is not only relegated to large organizational structures. I have observed that even smaller organizations can do the same thing for the very same reasons.

At its core the “life of its own” phenomenon has more to do with power, either directly or indirectly. Someone may develop a big head or the “group” may elevate it’s own importance to the whole.

Case in point: In the 25% of my life I spent as part of America’s silent service I saw this over and over again. Our mission was to patrol the oceans of the world simply to wield the “Big Stick”. Ballistic Missile submarines have no other purpose than to retaliate should an unfriendly decide to launch a first strike. In order to do this effectively we hid. That’s it, plain and simple. Ready to launch within a few minutes, unable to be taken out. Should you decide to punch the U.S. we’ll hit you back, and we can have our birds in the air while your’s are still on the way.

Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) is defined on Wikipedia as:

a doctrine of military strategy and national security policy in which a full-scale use of high-yield weapons of mass destruction by two or more opposing sides would cause the complete annihilation of both the attacker and the defender. It is based on the theory of deterrence where the threat of using strong weapons against the enemy prevents the enemy’s use of those same weapons. The strategy is a form of Nash equilibrium in which neither side, once armed, has any incentive to initiate a conflict or to disarm.

Back to my topic. During my tours on three ballistic missile submarines it became apparent that oft times the nuclear engineering team viewed their purpose as the primary mission of the submarine; their function to maintain the power plant was “to have something for the power plant to push through the water”. Don’t get me wrong. Their mission was vital to the success of the submarines mission. With them there would be no mission. However, they had lost sight that each job on board the submarine was equally critical in its unique way.

My job classification concerned the actual targeting and launch systems computers. Of the160 man compliment on board, there were only 6 of us. Without us it was only a matter of time before the redundant systems fail and the missiles on board were unable to be launched. But my job was no more critical than the 6 Culinary (formerly known as Mess Management) Specialists who prepared meals 4 times/day, day after day for 72 day stints.

So which is better butter or margarine? It depends on what you’re focused on. It depends on which “evil’s” you are trying to counter.

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