In road traffic, says my friend @antlerboy, the one with the most momentum has the most responsibility. Perhaps that’s true in other fields too?
Meanwhile, in a hierarchical organization, the one with the highest position has the highest authority. This is known as positional power. Unfortunately, responsibility and authority are not the same thing.
According to Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle, the more precisely the position is determined, the less precisely the momentum can be determined, and vice versa. This is one of the central principles of quantum mechanics.
An analogous problem in most organizations is that responsibility and authority are poorly aligned. In other words, the person who pulls the strings isn’t always the one who gets the blame when something goes wrong. And similarly, the person who does the work isn’t always the person who actually knows how to do it properly. Position versus momentum.
There is a useful technique for organizational analysis known as RAEW (responsibility, authority, expertise and work), which was described by Roger Crane in the 1980s and adopted in some versions of Information Systems Planning. Unlike better-known techniques for responsibility assignment such as RACI, which describe how responsibilities ought to be distributed in an ideal (linear, clockwork) organization, the RAEW technique allows us to analyse how (badly) responsibilities are distributed in a real (chaotic, quantum, snakepit) organization.
And maybe fix some of the problems?
Related Posts: Clockwork or Snakepit? (June 2010)
Open University: Handy’s four types of organisational cultures
The vast majority of business tools that I see in use, fail to give you position and movement. I find them useless for context or learning.
— swardley (@swardley) April 8, 2016
Updated 8 April 2016