Structural Integrity: How to Make Real Changes to Your Organization’s Structure

I recently wrote about the importance of maintaining a healthy and flexible organizational structure. One of the key ways in which to increase flexibility by distributing decision-making power is to ask the question “What would you do?” often and to as many people as possible.

Asking this question is one of the best ways to derail some of the common avoidance mechanisms that leaders can fall into, either intentionally or unintentionally. These include:

  • Rearranging the structure on paper without actually making real changes. Flow charts and tables can be great tools for mapping out organizational structure, but simply moving the pieces around won’t solve any problems if the hierarchies remain unchanged.
  • Forging new relationships with outside parties without doing the hard work of building trust and loyalty. It’s always great to forge new alliances or sign new contracts with suppliers, distributors, consultants, etc., but if the relationships remain superficial you won’t see any real change.
  • Delegating in theory only. Delegating tasks to others requires actually giving them the authority to make decisions. If you’re still the key decision-maker, you haven’t made a real change.
  • Delegating without offering proper support. If you go too far in the other direction and set your employees loose without the guidance and feedback they need to succeed, the structure will not be sustainable.
  • Not investing enough in intrapreneurship. Intrapreneurship requires material resources, not just a cash bonus here and there. If you want your best talent to flourish, you also need to give them the space, flexibility and incentive to think outside the box.
  • Forming committees without giving them any real authority. Distributing decision-making power throughout the organization instead of keeping it centralized can vastly increase adaptive capacity, but only if you let it work. If you’re still holding the reigns behind the scenes, you haven’t made real changes.

Avoidance mechanisms are dangerous because they let you think you’ve made real progress when in fact everything is essentially the same. By the time a crisis occurs, it’s too late to adapt.

So what does an ideally structured organization look like? Eichholz paints the following picture: “Imagine a team meeting in which the boss presents a problem he perceives and, instead of giving instructions on what to do about it, asks for people’s opinions, both in terms of diagnosis and action steps. He does this with true curiosity and a readiness to learn from his subordinates rather than wanting them to guess what already might be in his mind. The immediate response should be to generate a better understanding of the problem and a more comprehensive response along with a higher level of engagement from the team.”

Sound like a place you’d like to work? I’d love to discuss your organization’s ideal structure and what steps you need to take to make it a reality. You can reach me via my website, LinkedIn and Twitter. I look forward to hearing from you!

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