Death by reorg

Even if you haven’t experienced it, you’ve heard about it, seen it, and now it’s a epidemic. The familiar reorganization: changing management structures, reporting relationships, moving units around.  It can happen infrequently, but in many organizations it seems to be a regular occurrence: every 2 years, every year, or more frequently.  The expression ‘drive-by reorgs’ isn’t hard to countenance.

The reasons for reorganizations can be several, both pragmatic and political.  I remember reading a screed that suggests it’s inevitable: organizations will have to align to customers for a while, until efficiency falters, then they reorganize along operational lines until customer satisfaction drops.  Of course, there are the typical new manager reorganizations as well; it’s easy to hypothesize that they have to be seen to be doing something.  Even if, in the words of Petronius Arbiter, reorganizations are “. . . a wonderful method it can be for creating the illusion of progress while producing confusion, inefficiency,and demoralization“.

However, it occurred to me to think that reorgs may be a symptom of an approach to management that’s seeing it’s last days.  My ITA colleagues have been talking about how we need to moving in a new direction, away from hierarchy to Jon Husband’s wirearchy.  Reorganizations restructure the top-down approach to guiding performance, where one person thinks for several.  Network approaches, where everyone understands the goals and is empowered to achieve the goals.

Really, if an organization is restructuring regularly, it’s probably a sign that it’s trying to adapt structurally to an environment that is increasingly chaotic.  And that approach just isn’t going to work anymore. Organizations have to become more flexible than rigid structures can accommodate, and more flexible management approaches are needed.

Seriously, Death by Reorganization (warning, PDF) is the potential endgame.  What is the alternative?  Creating a learning culture of trust and responsibility, empowered with resources, and leadership that embodies a clear vision and lives as a sharing learning.  Reorganizations could be the sign of failing leadership, rather than innovative leadership.  Where are you and your organization?

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