Who’s the boss?

‘Members of effective organisations work as a team, but there are also clear chains of command. Everyone knows where they fit in, and to whom they report.’
Issue date 7 September 2007

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The media has had a field day over the dismissal of deputy health minister Madlala-Routledge, hasn’t it? They’ve used it to cover every health issue, including the many failings of Dr Beetroot, health minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang.
The letter confirming Madlala-Routledge’s dismissal, belatedly released to the media, identified two reasons for terminating her services. One: she is not able to work as part of a “collective”, which is Mbeki-speak for saying she is not a team player; and two: she took an unauthorised trip overseas. Without debating the merits or otherwise of her dismissal, what puzzles me is why it was President Mbeki who wrote her letter of dismissal.

Madlala-Routledge was the deputy minister. Her direct boss was Manto. Surely Manto should’ve handed out the marching orders? But no, Mbeki did the dirty work. He may have been protecting Manto from more vilification, but it looks to me like a classic case of confused management, something one sees so often in dysfunctional organisations. Members of effective organisations work as a team, but there are also clear chains of command. Everyone knows where they fit in, and to whom they report. However, I’m staggered by how often I get a confused look and no clear answer when I ask a manager “Who is your boss?”.
There are a number of ways organisations might operate. The most common business structure is shown in the organogram in Diagram 1. This structure is sometimes criticised as being too hierarchical and not illustrative of the complementary roles and responsibilities of managers. Its strength is that it clearly indicates the hierarchy and chain of command.

Sometimes a business structure looks like Diagram 2. Its proponents point out that this more accurately emphasises coordination rather than the dominant role of the number 1 manager. It makes no one person demonstrably senior or superior to another, a concept more acceptable to those who have socialistic tendencies.
Academics in the management field often show organisations operating as in Diagram 3. They argue that in the real world members of organisations have such complex overlapping roles and responsibilities that this is the most accurate way of depicting the way an organisation works. It looks a bit of a mess to me, but does demonstrate the concept of teamwork.

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What does your organisation’s chart look like – Diagram 1, 2 or 3, or a combination? Whichever it is, I know for sure that while Diagrams 2 and 3 may be more appropriate for your business from time to time, there is always a need for a Diagram 1 underpinning the organisation. Otherwise, your people might, just like Mbeki, be confused as to who is whose boss. – Peter Hughes ([email protected], or call (013) 745 730). |fw