The Expanding Middle

Posted on · Posted in Middle Management

In our recent blog: re-inventing Middle Management, we called for a fresh look at the role of middle managers. Here we look at one of the problems with the middle of an organisation: its tendency to expand.

Over time the middle of an organisation can grow to larger than it needs to be. This can happen for several reasons, notably though due to a well-known principle, Parkinson’s Law:

It is a commonplace observation that work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion. Cyril Northcote Parkinson

The issue here is that some middle managers define their role (and their importance) by the number of people they manage. They then try to justify their position by increasing the size of their department or unit. This approach can easily escalate to an “empire-building” mind-set as other units are seen as rivals. Left unchecked, an empire-building culture can accelerate the growth of an inefficient muddle.

Without proper focus, definition and support, this kind of organisational middle can be wasteful and inefficient.

Unfortunately the typical response is not to re-focus the middle, it’s to re-structure and reduce. This may lead to some short-term resource gain but far too often the real result is the loss of middle manager capability and potential.

In our next blog we will look at a second problem with the middle of organisations: the entrenched middle.