My experience is that big organsiations create situations where the politics of success dictate you grow your control of people and resources, even when that is counterproductive to the task you’re actually supposed to be achieving.
You see it all the time, in fact: groups which have, for example, their own HR organsiations, even when there is a central HR team supposed to do the work. Or their own communications groups, because it is “easier” to get things done when everything is located in the one place. And the list goes on and on through Finance, procurement, sales and so forth.
Empires are wasteful because they are artifices constructed for the sole purpose of providing life-support to the Emperor in charge.
You can often see how the mechanics of disruption work not only against large companies and their operations, but against people and their empires in large organisations as well.
Now, I’m sure very few people reading here have a need for me to explain how disruption works, but just in case, you might read this wikipedia entry on the subject. The basic point is that empires get disrupted in the same two situations that companies do.
Firstly, an empire gets disrupted when someone offers to do quite a bit less than what the empire is setting out to do, but does it more nimbly and cheaply. You see this all the time. Imagine a big development shop with a heavy lifecycle process and miles of governance. When a little team pops up that can just churn out apps at a rate of knots, everyone turns to them to do the work for them, even though there is less assurance. The apps might not work at scale, but at least they work. And they’re quick.
The second time an empire gets disrupted is when someone offers the services of something like the empire to a group that previously couldn’t access the empire at all. The same example applies as above: most large development shops prioritise work from big paying customers – like core business lines – over the needs of smaller groups like communications. When the new little team pops up, communications is suddenly able to access the same resources as their big-money counterparts, and flock to the startup as a matter of course.
Now, initially, the startup dev group won’t even be on the radar of the Empire, but sooner or later, their activities will get noticed. That will most likely happen the first time that the new group gets offered something that would be at the low end of what the Empire would normally take on.
The result is fairly predictable. The Empire will marshall its arguments that the new team should either be disbanded, or folded into the Empire entirely. They’ll argue that this will result in “efficiencies” and a superior product. The organisation will be safer, because the “risky” nature of the startup will be mitigated. And blah and blah, onwards for every reason under the sun that explains why the Empire is good and the startup is bad.
The Empire is actually doing all it can to remove a threat to its existence. Even if the Emperor realise it, what the startup is doing is showing everyone that, in reality, the Empire is highly inefficient at what it does, and that’s because its purpose is to sustain the top guy, not deliver good outcomes for the organisation.
Disrupting the Empire directly is rarely a successful strategy, because the critical mass of clout and resources it holds means it will always win any battle of attrition.
On the other hand, the inefficiency of the Empire is also what kills it in the end. It attracts more and more resources in an organisation (because it is inefficient, and therefore grows its inputs faster than it can grow its outputs) and sooner or later this gets noticed by someone with the power to do something about it.
Almost all empires get broken up in the end, usually taking the Emperor who architected the whole thing with it. If you can wait long enough, and be beneath the radar so you don’t get absorbed, the disruptive little startup group will probably be the trigger that causes this to happen.