An observation on the dynamics of (sufficiently) large organizations.

Assumed audience: People interested in organizational dynamics.

Epistemic status: Lots of first-hand observation. Not a years-long sociological study.

At the upper echelons of any sufficiently-large organization, the people present are increasingly there because of a combination of ambition and political savvy, rather than other competencies. However, that also means that selection pressures for other competencies are also lower — including, critically, the ones I value much more, like competence in the domain itself and excellence in the craft of software.

I say:

  • other competencies” because political savvy is a competency, and indeed a necessary one in any group larger than a few people.

  • increasingly” because this trend does not eliminate the importance of other competencies; rather, it shifts the balance between political and other competencies.

  • upper echelons” because this is not what we select for primarily in rank-and-file” roles: junior engineers, for example, do get evaluated primarily on those first-order competencies and only very secondarily on political savvy.

  • sufficiently-large” because these dynamics do not (typically) emerge in a (healthy) group of five people, but seem always to emerge in (even healthy) groups of more than a few dozen people.