How to match structure with strategy

No doubt, one of the most difficult tasks for any leader is to develop an effective organizational structure for his team. Usually the structure evolves organically and needs revision from time to time. The common issues that indicate that it's time for revision again are:

  1. Ineffective communication, lack of clarity among the team.
  2. Inconsistent distribution of tasks & responsibilities, many individuals don't feel responsible and always the same cover for it.
  3. Inadequate profile matching in terms of both capabilities and drive. Some are not in their most effective role. They're not happy and we're not happy with them.
  4. Inertia.

In essence we think the dilemma in structuring an organization is quite recognizable:

Or to simplify one step further...

The whole idea of composing a team is to create synergy between the team members. 1 + 1 is supposed to be 3, otherwise tasks would be delegated to individuals in isolation; that's a lot easier to follow up on.

As soon as we decide to delegate a responsibility or task to a team instead of an individual 2 issues arise:

  1. They need to communicate among them on the way they can support each other and in order to keep everyone posted on the individual progress towards the common goal.
  2. There should be full clarity on what to expect from each other. Who is doing what and how do we hold each other accountable. There is no such thing as a joint responsibility. Then usually no one feels responsible. So the leader needs to allocate tasks and responsibilities clearly including the individual accountability.

So it all comes down to consistency of allocation and clarity of communication. It sounds so simple and still any leader or manager will agree that it is the most difficult task to perform consistently over time. Every day we're challenged to deviate from this simple principle.

  1. Communication is difficult because we assume a lot without making our assumptions explicit (nor to others, nor to ourselves). See our blog Is Your Logic Logical?
  2. Consistency in structure is difficult to maintain because circumstances change constantly, which requires ongoing adjustment.

Over time the formal and the informal structure start to deviate because no structure is prepared for Murphy. Once in a while people step out of their formal role (and they should) in order to solve an unforeseen issue that cannot be dealt with within the formal structure. When this happens repeatedly lacking clarity comes in with complexity popping up from all directions. When this is not nipped in the but, an organization becomes uncontrollable.

Some leaders proclaim they have no management tasks whatsoever. We see that there are 3 management tasks for a leader that are so important that he should maintain them personally as an ongoing process. Actually they are his organizational maintenance task.

  1. "Mowing the lawn", eliminate any tendency for haziness and complexity immediately.
  2. Communicate vision and strategy carefully. Guard both completeness and consistency. Keep reminding the team of the reason why we started our endeavors. In the heat of the moment most people tend to forget.
  3. Guard the personal matching process for the key roles in the structure with honesty & purity. Honesty can be tough and is easily confused with being nice. It has nothing to do with that. It should be respectful though.

If he performs these 3 tasks consistently and successfully he will not be distracted by it, because it will save him lots of time in fire fighting and he will be able to focus the majority of his time on his other important roles (strategy and management development). 

Yohyon van Zantwijk