The other day, I had an interesting conversation about organizations and reorganizations with some good friends. We talked about how big companies constantly change their organisational structure and how hard it is to keep up with all the twists and turns, how annoying reorganization’s are, how much time and effort is wasted in each change, how it sometimes just seems pointless and more politically motivated, etc. I listened to a talk from a neuroscientist once, sadly can’t remember who it was, who said it takes an organisation seven (7!) years to recover from the trauma of a reorganisation. And in seven years, you’ve probably done a few more changes after that first one, meaning the trauma is never ending. Poor people in that organisation, right? Awful, inconsiderate leaders and managers never letting their teams work in peace.
But here’s a thought: are we thinking about organisations in the wrong way?
Isn’t it very old fashioned to think about organizations as set structures that should remain the same, like always? The world is changing around us all the time, what makes us so sure that the setup that works for a specific set of challenges would be the same for the challenges tomorrow? You can’t really future proof an organization, can you?If we were to look at ourselves as deployable assets within an organization, rather than a fixture within a certain pattern of boxes and lines, wouldn’t it be really cool to be recognized for your skills and talents? If management said: ok, we now have these challenges and we need you on the team to solve them. I can only speak for myself here but I would jump out of bed every morning to get that sorted.
Let me use the analogy of sailing. What if we thought about organisations, or companies rather, as being a sailboat. In order for the boat to move forward, it needs to use the wind properly and tack either to one side and completely in the opposite direction a minute later. Would we feel better about org changes then?
With a different perspective of organizations, I imagine reorganization’s wouldn’t be such a trauma where people feel completely uprooted, and it’s not something where you lose prestige, rank or whatever. You’d always be a part of making the boat move forward and meeting a certain wind, just from a different position than before. It’s a perspective thing, but since we do tend to think about organizations as relatively fixed, any changes made become big issues you need to manage.
But then, what about decision making, mandates and processes? How do you know who’s in charge, who’s got the power to decide on investments and such, directions etc.? My take is this: this setup requires a management team that’s great at defining what the challenges are, setting the scope, the goals, and (non-conflicting) kpi’s, securing adequate resources (both people and budgets), and then stepping the hell out of the way and having trust in the teams deployed to solve the problem. Most managers I’ve met say they trust their teams but can’t help micromanage (myself included sometimes). It requires maturity in processes and also adherence to said processes.
I think many companies already operate in this way, we just call the challenges ordinary projects, but we don’t go all the way and reorganise to fully support them. We linger on in our old structures and keep adding things on top of existing roles and responsibilities. I think by changing the way we look at organisations, we could be a lot more effective, get a lot better results quicker without working harder, and without getting stuck in the oh so common ”not invented here” ditch. We’re in the boat together.