The cornerstones of a tight organization

Only tight organizations produce stellar results and consistently beat their competition. The challenge is that it is both difficult and time consuming to build a tight organization.

In a great machine there are no loose parts. The machine is tightly optimized. It can handle big tasks successfully, without any part breaking or bursting. When we build and lead organizations, such as a startup company or a large corporation, we wish for the organization to be tight in a fashion similar to a great machine that runs smoothly and efficiently.

Steampunk Fish

I have experienced both tight and sloppy organizations firsthand. MySQL AB was a tight and effective organization in the early 2000s. After a few years we lost a little of that touch, but found it again in 2006. MySQL AB returned to being an incredibly productive and well-run organization. It took two years for Eucalyptus to find its groove. Communication became fast, frequent and direct. As a result both quality and productivity rose.

When looking around, Netflix could be called a tight organization. They innovate with a relatively small team and disrupt an entire industry. Twitter was not a tight organization in the early years. It succeeded more in spite of than thanks to itself. Sun Microsystems was for the longest time a tight and high-performing organization. Gradually it lost the tight touch and became a loose and inefficient company.

Like with all great things, organizational tightness emerges slowly and can be lost quickly.

As you build a tight organization, there are three cornerstones to consider:

  1. Tightness is in the details. It’s not about strategy. Both tight and sloppy organizations can have a great strategy. Tightness is about habits. Daily interaction and daily work, nuances of communication and flavors of collaboration. It is also about how much you step on your colleagues’ toes. If you don’t step on them at all, you are too loosely coupled. If you step on them too much, you are not well organized. Toe-stepping must be measured in millimeters, not inches.
  2. Tightness requires trust. You cannot force an organization to be tightly optimized. You cannot force people to work tightly together. Genuine trust must be built first. Then you can start organizing for tightness.
  3. Tightness requires deep knowledge. No matter how great your people are and how much they trust each other, the tight organization will emerge only when people have a deep understanding of both the broad context in which the company operates and the specifics of their own mandate. Accumulating this knowledge and turning it into useful instincts takes a lot of time.

Marten Mickos

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