Sun Tzu said: Managing a large force can be similar to managing a small force. It is a matter of organization and structure. To direct and control a large force can be similar to directing and controlling a small force. It is a matter of communications and formations.

Chapter Five, Sun Tzu Art of War

In these lines, Sun Tzu talk about how to use a large force like a small force. The following factor determines it and they are:

1) Organization Structure

2) Communication

3) Formation

Now we all know that a large force has numerical strength and when they move in groups, they are able to overcome a lot of challenges, but one fatal characteristics of a large force in my opinion is agility. It cannot move fast because command from one point will take a long time to travel to the important and critical places in the force. This makes a large force less nimble than a small force and we all know speed is of the essence both in war and business. So how do we apply the above knowledge to business, let’s have a look.

Business Application

Organization Structure

How is your company structured? How many departments are there? In each department, how many people are there? Who is heading each department? How many levels are there between the head of department to the lowest level? Which information flows to which department? Critical information has to flow through how many levels in the hierarchy before it can be effected? These are some of the questions you should look into when you are reviewing your organization structure.

You also have to decide if there is a need to set up new departments for a certain functions. This is because with each new addition into your organization, you run a risk of confusion, if scope of duty is not defined clearly.


The next important aspect is communication. As mentioned in my other article, you need to have information flow to relevant departments and critical personnel. But there is one particular way where it could impede information flows and that is human error. For example, e-mail to the wrong addresses, forgot to call, and missed out certain attached documents when the e-mail is sent out. To err is human, such things are unavoidable. A checklist would then be useful here.

One thing to note here is that, your organization may have to cultivate a structure such that employees who take correct initiatives are rewarded. Otherwise, who would want to take one if you do not reward them for the correct action implemented but punish them when they took the wrong action.


Now in those days, when Sun Tzu was writing the book, formations would refer to how the cavalry, infantry and chariots are arranged and positioned in the battlefield. You would then ask, what is ‘formation’ in the business world? It would mean what are the people or departments involve in a certain projects. Are the people with complementary and relevant skills sets in this team? Could a healthy amount of conflicts be generated so that a good strategy can be devised? It all boils down to how you piece your employees, like a jigsaw puzzle pieces and come up with the best picture you have ever seen.

Leave a Reply