The Green Bay Packers front office has switched over from a vertical (or hierarchical) organizational structure to a lateral, (or horizontal, or team-based) one. Hey, I worked in human resources for a couple of corporations somewhere along the way. So what might we expect from this development?
Before, and for many years, the Packers had a nice straight line: Mike McCarthy (supposedly) reported to Ted Thompson, who reported to CEO Mark Murphy. With that setup, employees are clear on what their responsibilities and limits are. It simplifies things, and it makes individuals solely accountable for the successes and failures of those under their command.
Now, the Packers have four people wielding – or sharing? – the power: the coach, the negotiator/operations man, the general manager, and the CEO/president. It’s a lateral organization, meaning that Big Mike, Russ Ball, and Brian Gutekunst all now report to Murphy. It also means that among themselves the three are equals.
As the term suggests, it is said that in a team-based organization there is an atmosphere of cooperation, of working together to achieve results. In the traditional structure, one takes orders from above, and issues orders to those below.
From the activities of the past two weeks, we can deduce a number of things about president Mark Murphy’s three key people. I foresee problems with the newly-announced structure.
By most accounts, GM Gutekunst is mild-mannered and a team player. I don’t think the same can be said for the other two players in this melodrama.
I’ve always assumed McCarthy has never considered himself to be subservient to Ted Thompson, and that Thompson never attempted to impose his will on Big Mike. McCarthy has had little oversight at Green Bay.
With Thompson out of the picture, Big Mike immediately started maneuvering and lobbying to become independent of Thompson’s replacement. McCarthy got his way, when Murphy announced that the head coach would report to Murphy himself going forward.
The next behind-the-scenes drama concerns Russ Ball. I have to assume that he too used his forcefulness to free himself up from being under the GM’s supervision.
When Brian Gutekunst agreed to become the general manager, I wonder if he knew he’d have no authority over either McCarthy or Ball. Was that decided some time ago, or did Murphy – who strikes me as devious rather than strong-willed – simply cave in to McCarthy and Ball? I think maybe these two bullies steamrolled him.
McCarthy openly used his influence, and even an implied threat to leave if he wasn’t pleased with the GM choice, to gain more power and independence. Ball acted behind the scenes to increase his independence, to take on more responsibility (he was named director of football operations – whatever that entails) and undoubtedly to greatly increase his pay check.
It sure looks like Murphy was steamrolled by these two aggressors. I just can’t envision Murphy trying to order, instruct, or otherwise butt into matters in which McCarthy and Ball are assigned.
Draftees are no problem – their contracts and salaries fall right into place according to where they were drafted.
Where I envision matters becoming most contentious among our “team players” is regarding free agent signings. Presumably, Gutekunst is responsible for targeting free agents he’d like to acquire – though who knows, maybe Ball, in his football operations director capacity, will claim that’s his turf too. Either way, once a prospect is targeted, it would seem that Ball then has the task of nailing down how much it will cost the team to get the guy.
Let’s say Gutekunst has a free agent in mind, and thinks he’s worth $10 million a year to acquire. What if Ball thinks he’s worth $6 million, tops – can’t Ball effectively veto Gutekunst’s choice by not making a high offer? Since they are now equals, do we wait until the weaker one gives in? Or do both guys go crying to Murphy, who then sides with one or the other? Or maybe Gutekunst or Murphy, sets the highest price the Packers are willing to pay, and Ball negotiates on that basis?
And who’s to say Big Mike won’t demand a big say in which free agents are pursued? He could easily warn the other two that a certain player doesn’t suit his style or perceived needs, so don’t acquire him because I won’t play him.
Let’s face it, in some cases consensus is not going to be reached among these three or four guys – doesn’t that mean that the guy who’s got the least involvement in football operations – Murphy – breaks the impasse?
Here’s what another site says about the dangers of a lateral organizational structure:
The decentralized structure could lead to a “loose ship,” as the team and project leaders have high levels of responsibility for achieving results but little real authority over their team members. A resulting lack of control can lead to finger-pointing when things go awry… Organizations attempting to convert from a vertical to a horizontal structure can face challenges, as management needs to adjust to a less authoritarian and a more peer-like relationship with subordinates.
I’d say Big Mike and Russ Ball have already indicated they’re fine with peer-like relationships – as long as they get their way.