From Hierarchy to Spider Plants Your Organization Is Changing and So Should Your Design

From Hierarchy to Spider Plants: Your Organization Is Changing and So Should Your Design

10 min read

Latanya Hughes

My grandmother is a gardening guru. Ever since I can remember, she has always been able to grow and cultivate any type of plant. It’s really quite amazing. I will never forget the day she was able to get a rose bush to grow in hot Florida. If you know anything about the dirt in Florida, it is not a conducive environment for rose bushes. However, here she is with a blooming rose bush in the front of her yard. This achievement was not without a string of challenges. After all, she was trying to get a rose bush to grow and thrive in South Florida. The plant went through all kinds of changes, but my grandmother knew if she kept trying and gave it enough thought she would figure out what was needed in order to make it work. Eventually she was successful. She merely had to create the right environment for the plant to grow and prosper. Twenty years later, the roses are still there.

Isn’t this what some of our organizations are like today? Many times organizations are trapped in an environment that does not allow for a free flow of its gifts and talents. Thus, there is no growth and prosperity. Some of them are on the brink of an innovative plan that will catapult their business to the next level. This is not a bad thing. We want our organizations to thrive and prosper. The challenge that presents itself is much like the challenge of trying to get a rose bush to grow and prosper in South Florida. The soil isn’t cultivated properly and the environment is out of order. As a leader in your organization, it is your responsibility to examine the environment of your organization to ensure the soil is properly cultivated for a harvest to produce. Lowell Bryan and Claudia Joyce write for the McKinsey Quarterly. They state, “Today’s organizations must redesign themselves to remove unproductive complexity while simultaneously stimulating the effective, efficient creation and exchange of valuable intangibles. They must be able to mobilize mind power as well as labor and capital.” This is true.

Is Your Soil Right for the Harvest?

As in the previous example about the rose bush, the soil for an organization is its design. Without the proper design, the organization cannot apply the proper strategy to reap the necessary harvest. Right Management argues, “There are some fundamental relationships between organizational elements that work together to deliver a well-executed strategy through an engaged workforce, resulting in a great customer experience, high performance, and profitability.” Gill Corkindale further supports this argument by sharing the following thought regarding poor organizational design, “Poor organizational design and structure results in confusion within roles, a lack of coordination among functions, failure to share ideas, and slow decision-making.” When I think about this, I can see two plants growing together. One is wheat and the other is tare.

Tares are uncultivated seeds. The tare represents poor organizational design. When an organization’s design is lacking, it produces seeds of further destruction (just like the tare). Tares literally choke the life out of wheat. It takes years of labor to completely eradicate tares. Wheat, on the other hand, represents prosperity and a thriving organization with proper design. An organization with a wheat mentality bends with the wind at full girth because its seeds are heavy, properly rooted in the soil. In order for the wheat to thrive, the tare must be destroyed at the root or it will continue to grow and suffocate the wheat. Unfortunately, before this can occur the organization must wait until the proper time to do so. Just like the farmer must wait until the wheat is at full harvest in order to remove the tares (unless he risks the loss of his harvest), organizational leaders must assess the proper time to remove the tare from their midst. This means the organization must be prepared to experience a pruning process.

The purpose of pruning is to produce strong, healthy, attractive plants. As an organization, you want to have a strong, healthy, attractive organism that can produce a sustainable harvest. To do so, you must be willing to do some cutting and preventive maintenance across your organization.

1. Perform a SWOT analysis of each department. Knowing the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats in each area of your organization can be the crucial element in recognizing the wheat from the tare.

2. Meet with your Strategic Human Resource Manager and review the roles of the managers and leaders in your organization. Are there duplicate roles within the same department? How can you be more strategic in your hiring practices? Where can you trim the fat? Where can you gather the fragments to sow elsewhere in the organization?

3. Meet with your senior leadership and discuss the health of the organization with respect to its vision.

There are so many dynamics that impact an organization. As such, organizations must ensure their design addresses those dynamics. For instance, in the current economic climate, an organization must ensure there are proper measures and strategies in place to not only remain on the cutting edge but also to ensure the quality of the product / service is sound. Before an organization can achieve this, it must ensure the soil (the design) is properly cultivated. What do I mean by cultivated? To cultivate something means to prepare and work on or till. It also means to promote or improve the growth of by labor and attention. It means to foster. Therefore, an organization must promote or improve the growth of their design structure before it can expect to reap the benefits of the talent housed within.

Cultivate Your Soil for the Right Environment

Today’s organizations are impacted by technology, globalization, demographics (social and political), and other external forces. Traditional hierarchical models of yesterday’s organizations have demonstrated their limitations in the face of the explosive change that is characterized by contemporary society. Some leaders still believe in the hierarchical, top down leadership paradigm where power is conferred upon a few decision makers. I agree with Jenner’s argument that the problem with this method is it tends to restrict the free flow of ideas and information and limit organizational flexibility, all to gain greater “control”.

Cultivating the right environment for your organization to thrive and prosper may take a lot of hard work, but it is worth it. Before you can cultivate your organization, you must be able to identify what kind of soil you currently have. If your soil is bare, it is suitable for cultivating (digging). This means you pretty much have a blank slate. You are ready to start fresh and establish an organizational design. Then there is the clay soil. Clay is difficult to work with and few plants survive in it. This means the design that is currently in place does not align with your vision and your workforce, most likely, is at odds with one another. Inter-departmental teams are not cohesive and little to no productivity occurs. Lastly there is the light, sandy soil. It is easy to till because the grains are fine. The problem with sandy soil is it dries out quickly. An organization that fits into this category has a good foundation. You may have the right design, but you are not properly watering the soil. You, also, are not mixing in the right organic matter to make it more conducive for what you are trying to produce. With a sandy soil, you definitely need to nurture your talent and knowledge seeds with training and development. You will also need to encourage innovation and feedback. With sandy soil, it will take a great deal of investment into what you have.

So what are some other ways your organization can cultivate its soil for the right environment? Bryan and Joyce offer the following recommendations:

1. Streamline and simplify vertical and line-management structures.

2. Deploy off-line teams to discover new wealth-creation opportunities while using a dynamic management process to resolve short- and long-term trade-offs.

3. Develop knowledge marketplaces, talent marketplaces, and formal networks to stimulate the creation and exchange of intangibles.

4. Rely on measurements of performance rather than supervision to get the most from self-directed professionals.


Organizational design should be about developing and implementing corporate strategy. When leaders keep this in mind, they will be better able to cultivate the soil of their organization so it is conducive for the seeds of innovation to mature and produce a harvest. Mike Bohlmann, Kelly Bridgewater, Mona Heath, and Sally Jackson wrote an article entitled “Connected and Permeable: An Organizational Design for the 21st Century Research University.” In the article they state, “The process of restructuring will provide many opportunities for shaping new attitudes and values, but these new attitudes and values will need constant bolstering within the context of day-to-day work as well as within professional development activities.”

As you work to separate the wheat from the tares in order to cultivate the right environment for your organization, you must remember why your organization exists. What was the fundamental basis for starting the organization in the beginning? When you keep your vision in mind, you are better able to pull on the talent and knowledge base housed within your organization. Then you can use the innovation that springs forth. Before you can reap the harvest, however, you have to have an environment conducive for the seeds that are being sown. Much like the rose bush, the soil has to be right. When you look at your organization, do you see an environment prime for a healthy harvest or a harvest that has been sabotaged and suffocated by the wrong seeds?


Bohlmann, M., Bridgewater, K., Heath, M. & Jackson, S. (2009). Connected and permeable: An organizational design for the 21st century research university. [PDF document]. Retrieved from:

Bryan, L.L. & Joyce, C. (2007). “Better strategy through organizational design: Redesigning an organization to take advantage of today’s sources of wealth creation isn’t easy, but there can be no better use of a CEO’s time.” McKinsey Quarterly, 2.

Bryan, L.L. & Joyce, C. (2005). “The 21st century organization.” McKinsey Quarterly, 3. Corkindale, G. (2011). The importance of organizational design and structure. HBR Blog Network. Retrieved from: (2012). Cultivate. Retrieved from: Harrell Andrews, L.C. (2011). Wheat, tare, and weeds. Know the difference. Retrieved from:–Tare–and-Weeds

Jenner, R.A. (1994). “Changing patterns of power, chaotic dynamics and the emergence of a post-modern organizational paradigm.” Journal of Organizational Change Management, 7(3), pp. 8-21. DOI:10.1108/0953481940063692. Nielson, D. (2009). Connections: Wheat and tares. Retrieved from:

Right Management. (2010). Organizational effectiveness: Discovering how to make it happen. [PDF document}. Retrieved from Leadership Insights:

Royal Horticulture Society. (2012). Soil: Cultivation. Retrieved from:

Susan’s Garden Patch. (n.d.). Soil types. Retrieved from: United States Department of Agriculture. (1995). How to prune trees. [PDF document]. Retrieved from:

Vanderlinden, C. (n.d.). Understanding and improving clay soil. Retrieved from: About the author:

Latanya Hughes is a full-time faculty member at American Public University System. She received her Bachelor’s degree (Hospitality Management) from Tuskegee University and Master’s degree (MBA) from Strayer University. She is currently pursuing a DSL in Global Consulting from Regent University in the School of Global Leadership & Entrepreneurship. Email:

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