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  • Writer's picturejohn pryor

Alternatives to Reorganization

This is the final installment in a 4-part series on reorganizations. The first, Is Reorganization your Right Solution? covers the impact and decision making behind reorganizing your group. The second blog, Okay, You’ve Made the Decision to Reorganize, Now What? lays out the process for designing and implementing the reorganization. The third, Reorganization Best Practices reviews some easy to implement best practices to include in planning and executing the initiative.

This series started with the question “Is it worth it?”. Given the odds of success, it is a question any leader considering a reorganization should think long and hard about. A follow up question to ask is “What is the problem I am trying to solve?”. If the problem is not strategic alignment, chances are pretty good a reorganization is the wrong tool to use. It can be very tempting to try and fix a clunky workflow, process or information flow problem by changing reporting relationships and moving people around on the organization chart. But structural solutions always create silos. Addressing workflow, process or information flow issues with a reorganization is like squeezing a balloon, you squeeze one end and the problem just moves to somewhere else. If the problem you are trying to fix is smoothing out process and bridging silos, a reorganization just moves the problem, it does not solve it.

Focus instead on workflow, smoothing out handoffs and spanning silos.

If you are a fan of the STAR model, this all falls within the Process element of the organization design. A great reference is Amy Kates and Jay Galbraith’s book, "Designing Your Organization". To break this down to simpler terms, look at two things; the process for getting work done and the people connections associated with that process.

Process for getting work done

Most work spans across organizational functions. And when it does, the weak point is the handoff between functions. Why? Usually because there is confusion. "Who is involved in the hand-off? What are the data requirements? What is good and what work will get rejected? Who is the owner?" Confusion on roles and responsibilities is a common complaint and where it exists, it can grind collaboration and productivity to a stand-still. If you have not taken the time to map your process, do it. Make sure those involved agree that the documented process is the process that they are using. (You may be surprised how often this is not the case and the process itself is misunderstood). Then look at each handoff and ensure those involved are crystal clear on their role and activities in the process. Clarifying the process and roles and responsibilities will go a very long way in reducing friction in workflow and increasing productivity.

People connections

Clarifying roles and responsibilities may be half the battle with improving organizational performance. Shoring up people connections may be the second half. Kates and Galbraith refer to lateral connections and call out four types; networks, teams, integrative roles (think point of contact / account owner) and matrix. These are listed in order of ease of implementation, with networks being easiest and a matrix being most difficult.

When considering people connections, go simple. Rather than jump to the most difficult way to connect people, start with the simplest; a network. Maybe the people involved in the process just need to know one another and need to communicate every once in a while. It is a pretty common complaint that people don’t know the others involved in getting the work done, especially in processes that stretch geographic boundaries.

If more than an informal network is called for, consider establishing a team. Teams are more formal than networks, with defined roles, a common objective and usually established rules on conduct and meetings / communication. Teams are a simple, popular and wonderful bridging mechanism. Creating the right teams does not require a reorganization, everyone still reports to the same boss, they still work in the same group, but now they have a place (a team) where they are included and that has a common goal to accomplish a certain task.

The creation of integrative roles such as account managers is helpful if even further connection and coordination is needed. If the work requires a significant amount of oversight and management, creating a role where a person manages that process across functions and handoffs may be required.

My experience is that leaders and others often jump right to matrix type of connections boasting “We work in a matrixed organization.” A true matrix organization is very difficult to establish and maintain. It requires a highly collaborative culture, especially at the management level. In a matrix organization, two managers are accountable for a particular role. They must set aside their functional ambitions and consider outcomes for the larger organization, and that is much more difficult than it sounds.

In short, some alternatives to reorganizing your group may be found in the simplest ways. Focus on your process for getting work done, especially as work crosses structural boundaries. Ensure those involved in handoffs are super clear on their roles and responsibilities. Consider your people connections. Are the right people connected and in the right ways? Do we need an informal network to connect those involved in the process, or is more required such as establishing a team or special oversight role?

These mechanisms are easy to establish and can increase collaboration and productivity very quickly. Consider these organizational tools before pulling out the reorganization hammer!

Is there anything you would like to add? Please leave your thoughts and comments below.

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