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With the advent of Information Technology, the business has become very competitive. Technology has led to disruption. Today aggregators like Uber, Zomato are disrupting markets for automobiles by taking away reasons to own a car. Competitors are quick to respond to strategic initiatives making everyone fight for tactical advantages. This requires a new way of structuring organisations, working and communications. The organisations of today are competing not only with their traditional competitors but also with start-ups. They are competing not only for customers but also to retain skills and talent. They have to work at speed with inter-dependencies. They cannot afford bureaucracy. The only way they can achieve this is by developing team based organizations. (https://rajneeshrastogi.wordpress.com/2015/02/26/team-based-on-organisations-a-new-organisation-structure/ )

Al Qaeda, though a terrorist organization, is a very good example of it. Organizations and management Gurus can learn from Al Qaeda on how to structure their operations and be effective.   Al Qaeda has functions similar to most corporates have. It has to raise funds, recruit zehadis (employees in another sense), induct and train its manpower, market itself and publicise its acts. Most importantly it has to carry out its work clandestinely so confidentiality is very important.

Al Qaeda, like most corporates, has a distributed structure with its operations across countries. It is continuously trying to increase its global footprint. It works across multiple languages and cultures. Its leadership is also distributed across countries. Al Qaeda is able to achieve its objectives due to its innovative structure and the fact that its recruits (or employees) are aligned with its purpose (however flawed it may be) and committed enough to lay their lives for the purpose (thanks to its recruitment, induction and training systems).

Structure of Al Qaeda

Al Qaeda is structured around teams and committees.  The leader of Al Qaeda consults and works with Shura, which means “Consultation” in Arabic. The Quran and Prophet Muhammad encourage Muslims to decide their affairs in consultation with those who will be affected by that decision. Consultation and decision making by consensus are the basic principles of democracy. Shura is committee of elders and all major decisions are taken in it.

Al Qaeda has committees for military operations, finance and information sharing. Its leaders communicate with its affiliates through these committees.  There are no hierarchical controls.  It works on system of role and responsibility and not hierarchy. An undated document, believed to have been written in the late 1980s or early 1990s, provides an extensive description of the roles and responsibilities of each of Al-Qaeda’s committees and sections. (https://www.hudson.org/research/14365-how-al-qaeda-works-the-jihadist-group-s-evolving-organizational-design).

Decision Making

Al Qaeda leaders are focussed on strategy and messaging or communications. The messages have to be consistent and aligned to strategy. The affiliates plan and execute their own operations. They do need to double check with central leadership before they carry out a large operation.

The affiliates adhere to its strategy, objectives and goals, but adopt tactical approach based on the local dynamics.

Al Qaeda is demonstrating how to operationalize key principles of team based structures:

  1. Operations delegated to teams with Board focussing on Purpose, Values, Strategy and Accountability
  2. Hierarchy and designations replaced by roles and responsibilities. Some roles could be more important than others.
  3. Tap on to entrepreneurship of its workforce by allowing them to take initiatives, fail and learn from their mistakes.
  4. Allow everyone (in team) to participate in discussions they feel are important for them. Give them a voice and a chance to shape those discussions.

We may not agree with the purpose of Al Qaeda and its acts. But we have to acknowledge that they have shown the way how the future organizations would be. That is Organizations where Boards will lay down the purpose, values and accountability structures while they would delegate operational responsibilities such as planning, implementation, monitoring and control to the teams.