The job of a manager is to balance enforcing structure while allowing creativity through good decision making.
In a recent interview with Lord David Owen, the former British Foreign Secretary who helped bring peace to Bosnia in the 1990s, this tension can be seen at the level of sovereign states.
He was asked how he began negotiating an end to the fighting between the Serbs and the Muslims:
'All this time, you're trying to form structures which can give people a measure of security and, to some extent, decentralised power. And then on top of it, you're trying to construct an overarching organisation for the whole country.'
Lord Owen was talking about the situation as he found it in 1992. The war ended in December 1995.
Simple. Create some governance in your nation or workplace that makes people feel safe. Delegate decision-making power downwards. People will respond by laying down their AK47s, dropping their bullying complaints, and living and working together in productive harmony. A triumph of diplomacy, reason, and our better angels. Sack the lawyers and spend the savings on vision statement coffee mugs, running fun team building days and bean bags in the common rooms.
Then the interviewer asked:
'Do you accept, ultimately, that in the case of Bosnia, what ended the war was the use of military force from outside?'
Boo! Hiss! Of course not! Structures! Power-sharing! Human reason! Self-organising system!
Yet Lord Owen, career politician, diplomat, negotiator, peacemaker said:
'Oh, absolutely. I argued for force. I wanted to enforce the Vance-Owen Peace Plan, as it was called in May 1993. And had we done so, we'd have brought the war to an end two years earlier...'
Sometimes you have to drop bombs. As the Director of Values said in one organisation: 'People should be given the freedom to perform their duties defined by clear boundaries. If they cross them they should be shot.'
Most organisations have the structures of an old Hollywood movie set. They are the out-of-focus backdrop to the main action. Come up against them and they'll randomly either fall away or crush you.
All workplace conflict would be quickly resolved if the consequences were clear, timely and as promised on the label. It's best for all in the long term.
It's called Integrity - doing what you say you're going to do.