Square Peg for a Square Hole Inside of a Square

jehyun-sung-6U5AEmQIajg-unsplash.jpgEvery couple of weeks or so, Ben Thompson from Stratechery and James Allworth from Harvard Business Review sit down to talk tech and society. On their most recent episode, I couldn’t help but think of some of the parallel applications to the public service. At around the 30-minute mark of the podcast, the two start talking about the different kinds of organizations (functional and divisional) and how certain leaders are better suited to lead from the different structures.

For instance, they use the example of Steve Jobs — who, most regard as a very successful leader. At the time that he was in charge of Apple, the organization operated, mostly, in a functional structure. The two referred to Jobs as the ultimate “product manager” — all decisions ran through him. As organizations grow, it’s natural for them to shed the functional structure for a divisional structure.

In listening to Ben and James talk about this, the thing that got me excited was that we could almost draw up a 2×2:

  • Functional Leader
  • Divisional Leader
  • Functional Org Structure
  • Divisional Org Structure

Naturally, you’ll want a functional leader operating within a functional org structure and a divisional leader within a divisional org structure. So, it could be that the person who looked like they had potential to be a good leader might be mismatched in the type of role they’ve found themselves in.


This episode also made me wonder if there needs to be more intentionality around, not only finding the right kind of leader suited for the org structure, but also being clearer about what kind org structure is best for the work being done in the organization. For instance, let’s say we’re in an area of a department that’s highly segmented for projects. OK — maybe that area should be setup in a ‘functional’ way. Or, maybe let’s say that we have a department where there are some clear delineations from one group to the next delivering on big programs. OK — maybe that area should be setup in a ‘divisional’ way.

Essentially, we want to make sure we put the square pegs in the square holes inside of squares and that we put the circular pegs in the circular holes inside of the circles.

Published by Jeremiah Stanghini

Jeremiah's primary aim is to provide readers with a new perspective. In the same vein as the "Blind Men and the Elephant," it can be difficult to know when one is looking at the big picture or if one is simply looking at a 'tusk' or a 'leg.' He writes on a variety of topics: psychology, business, science, entertainment, politics, history, etc.

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