Sand Hills.

My friend Steve Woolley once demonstrated to me a natural physical phenomenon that relates to this subject of pyramid-shaped structures.

Pyramid-shaped structures naturally want to flatten as they grow in size.

He took a handful of sand and poured it into a little pyramid. As the sand rose higher and it reached a certain point, the structure would shift and the sharp pyramid shape would collapse into a flatter form. The pile was stable when small and low. As it grew higher, it became less stable. At some intermediate stage the pile had a few trickles and the beginnings of instability. As it continued to grow, it became catastrophically unstable. Small movements or trickles triggered collapses.

There are obviously parallels between the growth and resulting instability of a pile of sand and the growth of an organization. Although it's not a perfect analogy, it may trigger some interesting thoughts. People ask, "How long can businesses continue to consolidate? When do the mergers stop? How high can the sand pile go?"

Conventional thinking is that mergers work when there are increased productivity efficiencies to be gained. This productivity is determined by the output divided by the number of human beings involved.

Of course, humans are involved, so the cultural aspects and social needs become important. Growth in the size of an organization is often at odds with these needs.

If companies can organize properly to satisfy the needs of the individuals, they can continue to merge. But simply building the pyramid higher results in operational inefficiencies, due to bureaucratic policies and systems that de-humanize the environment and, therefore, offset the advantage of economies of scale.

A band is a self-directed team. They determine their own success, rely on feedback from their audience and have different members leading at different times. Pictured here is one of The Phelps Group bands.