Hierarchical Layering

The progressive unfolding, or indeed layering, of organizations has been a preoccupation of the prominent Canadian management thinker, Elliott Jaques, for decades. In seeking after his so-called “requisite organization,” he has developed his own concept of organizational learning. Three works, published between 1976 and 1991, chart this development.

Central to managerial organizations, for Jaques, is the meaning and structure of the hierarchical layering, since that is what these organizations are fundamentally about. This method of layering is a true human discovery, like fire or the wheel, which originated in China some 3,000 years ago. It was a major event in the transition from the family/tribal society to the more dispersed type which we take for granted.

How many layers should any organization have? Layering should be such as to encompass successive categories of task complexity within each stratum of organization. Seven categories of task complexity are used in managerial hierarchies. Equivalent firm boundaries of real managerial layers have been found by Jaques to exist at time spans of one day, three months, one year, two years, five years, 10 years, and 20 years. The prime act of managerial leadership in any organization, therefore, is to establish an effective and efficient work organization where the work gets done by competent individuals, at just the right organizational strata to deal with the inherent complexity of the work itself.

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