Colleague: “So do you think that the majority of public sector organizations are centralized?
Andy: We can probably agree that the public sector includes all branches and departments of the government at the federal, state, and local levels; higher education and public school systems, and certain civil organizations, publicly supported non-profits, and particularly, all emergency services departments. The very nature of the incident command structure is top-down management.
All of these organizations operate as a centralized structure exhibiting the attributes that Brofman and Beckstrom describe for such organizations. 
- There is one person in charge, for example, the governor, mayor, or city manager, principal, or executive director. Each is organized in such a way that decisions (ultimately) are made from a top-down, chain of command approach and this is by design.
- There is one location, a headquarters or main branch, or primary gathering area.
- If the person in charge is unable to perform their job, there is usually (hopefully) a succession plan and another takes their place. However, if most or all of the ‘head’ of state, or person in charge are impacted (for example, in a catastrophic event, i.e. Haiti, Katrina, 9-11), some organizations are not able to recover at all.
- Roles and responsibilities on an organization chart are clearly defined.
- If an entire function is eliminated, for example, a public works or energy department, that function no longer is available. Mutual aid and cooperative agreements are typically in place, however, recovery is lengthy.
- Rigidity, is prevalent in the public sector. Although much of the everyday work may be delegated, I have found the reputation of ‘bureaucracy’ to be well-deserved.
- Funding is quite focused and budgets are provided strictly by the central authority.
- All employees or volunteers are known and accountable. There is very little, if any, unknown participants. Contractors, consultants, and vendors must apply through a regimented request for proposal process and are identifiable.
- The everyday working groups communicate directly, which is one of the only recognizable decentralized attributes.
There are many exceptions, but I view the exceptions as modifications to everyday operating agreements and not fundamental changes in the model.
Colleague: ” Does that mean they are inherently at risk of attack from decentralized organizations? Are they inherently more vulnerable and less resilient than private sector companies?”
Andy: In general, no, I don’t think public sector organizations are at risk from decentralized models. Although, there are countless examples of non-profits and contractors taking on responsibilities traditionally performed by public sector. However, this is at the direction and with approval of the public sector entity. Short of anarchy, where groups unofficially take over public sector duties, I don’t see the threat.
I think that public sector companies are actually less vulnerable and more inherently resilient than private companies. Private companies can fail easily without anyone or another company bailing them out. (Recent financial bails outs are an exception, not the rule.) Whereas, public sector entities have a number of mutual aid agreements, operating cooperatives, and backup plans for essential services at all levels. Neighboring towns help each other, the state brings in resources, and the federal level (eventually) participates in recovery once a disaster is declared.
Colleague: “But aren’t there some public sector orgs that evidence the five legs?!? Aren’t there many out there that exist precisely because they share trust and ideology? That have champions and operate with circles of equals? Here I’m thinking of, say, food pantries and soup kitchens and churches and on and on…”
Andy: Yes, the examples you offer are good ones that represent some evidence of the five legs. However, they are either independent non-profits (and therefore not officially public sector), or they are authorized branches of a publicly-funded program. In many cases, if there is no approval or support from the ‘head’ (official of a municipal), then funding doesn’t flow and these worthy causes do not exist, again unless they are already independent non-profits.
Colleague: “(And what are the limits here? How would we rate a fire department? Is it a spider because there are clear lines of authority? Or is it a starfish because there are arguably the five legs in place that create a culture of trust and resilience?)”
Andy: That is a good question. I think it’s clear that fire departments are organized as central, top-down structures with all of the associated attributes of a ‘spider’. However, in my experience, there is often a champion of a cause (special program), a catalyst for change (self-appointed non-ranking leader), a circle, a clique, if you will, of like-minded, ‘trust me with your life’ comrades, who form a brother(sister)-hood shared across the globe. Firefighters (and to a minor extent other emergency service teams) have a close-knit feeling of group-think which seems to create value. All that said, I don’t necessarily see how that ensures better resilience of the organization in and of itself. Rather, I return to the concept that without funding, these structures fall apart. There would be those that would emerge after a disaster and catalyze a new beginning, but again, the very nature of fire departments is to protect the collective well-being of the citizens, and that takes a centralized, structured organizational model.
 Brafman, Ori, and Beckstrom, Rod A., “The Starfish and the Spider-The Unstoppable Power of Leaderless Organizations“, 11th printing, USA, Penguin Books Ltd. 2006, Chapters 1-4