I've been having an interesting dialogue on Twitter with Crispin Burke, Shlok Vaidya, and Cameron Schaefer on the size of military staffs. It seems that every few years there is an argument that staff size is too big and bloated to function. Former British Army officer and military theorist J.S. Storr is especially emphatic about this in his book The Human Face of War. Yet modern conventional operations are very complicated and opinions very about the proper size and composition of staffs at various levels. There is also the larger question that Storr as well as many Small Wars Council posters bring up that current staff composition and methodologies may not be able to withstand both the increased tempo and attrition that conventional warfare may inflict.
One topic that keeps coming up is technology in organizational design. Over the last 20 years we have heard many calls to "flatten" organizational structure, particularly in a military context. This was the core organizational idea behind the concept of network-centric warfare.
First, to what degree does technology and networking actually "flatten" an organization? One of the points that Storr makes, as does other authors on organizational design, is that redundancy provides mechanisms for handling both structural and interactive complexity. Moreover, flattening hierarchy in practice also can, as an essay by P.W. Singer that Burke links points out, lead to increased micromanagement when there is less of a screen between people of relatively lower and higher status. If there are "strategic corporals" there are also "tactical generals" who might use technology to start ordering around company commanders.
Second, in terms of information-age organizational design, Antoine Bousquet and RAND's Carl H. Builder have both been extremely skeptical about technology. Builder's monograph Command Concepts, which is an excellent (and unlike Storr, non-expensive) read talks about how a commander can effect become a passive node in a cybernetic command and control cycle instead of actively designing and shaping the kind of information he or she wishes to receive. Bousquet in turn looks at how network-centric ideas about the "common operating picture" do not match up to the insights of complexity science they are supposedly based on.
Like many topics in defense theory, the future of command and control has both partisans and conservatives. In practice, a compromise is usually worked out. Sometimes it works, like the better doctrines of the interwar period. Sometimes it's just a muddle that satisfies no one.