I asked people to suggest topics for the series, and this topic was suggested by top HR influencer, Perry Timms. Thanks Perry. In earlier posts in this series, I outlined the importance of engaging hearts as well as minds when it comes to organisational change. This is the D is for Development angle of OD. While difficult to do, some might call it the softer edge of OD. But OD has a harder edge too. Today, D is for Design; organisational design. And that means we need to take a hard look at the dreaded restructure.
Three things they don’t tell you about restructuring your team
There is a well-trodden path of advice about planning your organisational restructure. Specialist organisation design consultants will advise you to consider:
- The purpose of your restructure: to realign to the organisational vision perhaps, to become more flexible or simply to save money (see also: change from the inside-out)
- The context against which you are restructuring: mergers or acquisitions, changes to the product or service offered or simply to save money (see also: change from the outside-in)
- Organisation design principles: to ensure efficiency and effectiveness of the structure.
This is all sensible stuff and only the principles might really need further specialist input.
These principles usually surround seemingly technical concepts including strategic alignment, accountability and empowerment, and the trade-off between coordination and specialisation. Don’t get me wrong, they can be very useful – I use them myself when consulting on restructuring – but they can over-complicate your approach, confuse you and run the risk of tying you up in knots.
What some specialists don’t tell you is that:
- A successful restructure is an act of storytelling
- It’s okay to sketch out your new structure on the back of a fag packet
- Restructuring is only half the story.
LESSON 1: A successful restructure is an act of storytelling
Stories have a beginning, a middle and an end.
The purpose of the beginning is to see the possibilities you have in restructuring. These possibilities are varied and nuanced, so sketch a few out and see how they feel. You might just want to remove or add a couple of posts, or you may prefer to start with a blank sheet of paper and reimagine your purpose, or you might only have a vague notion about things being different, a matrix structure perhaps, or even a whole new operating model.
LESSON 2: It’s okay to sketch out your new structure on the back of a fag packet
The next step is to engage people in your thinking. This is about testing out the sketches you have made. Talk to your peers, boss, HR team, and (if you can) the teams that will be affected.
If you need any specialist advice, it is likely to be now, but remember a few key principles can be achieved by making a simple checklist against which to test your ideas. For example, ask yourself:
- Does every strategic goal have an owner (this ensures alignment to the vision or strategy)?
- Will the structure ease workflow between departments (to ensure coordination of key organisational activities)?
- Does any post report to more than one manager (removing this helps to ensure accountability)?
Even more important is to hone the story at this point: what is the compelling reason for the restructure? Can you articulate your assumptions, are you prepared to open them to scrutiny and can you explain your thinking?
This stage is about implementing your chosen structure. You may notice that thus far we have attempted to keep it simple: your story is compelling; your structure has been sketched out and tested. The final hurdle is implementation. This often fails because the structure will not sustain itself in isolation.
LESSON 3: Restructuring is only half the story
Organisation development must go together with organisation design. Development without design runs the risk of becoming soft: the structure does not support the development efforts, which is a waste of money. Design without development however is a hard, empty vessel waiting to be filled with meaning. Organisation development completes the act of restructuring by turning ideas into actions that will fulfil the vision the design set out to achieve. It does this by locking in the changes. It does this by shifting the culture. You simply must have both organisation design and organisation development to succeed.
See also: The messy job of restructuring
OD thought leader: Robert Dilts (1955 – )
Dilts developed an understanding of neurological levels at play when change is underway. These levels form a hierarchy from bottom to top: Environment at the bottom; Behaviour; Capability; Belief; and Identity at the top. Sometimes, there is a sixth level – Spirituality– added to the top of the hierarchy. This indicates there is a higher purpose than Identity, although for many this is a moot point.
The basic idea is that each level affects those below it, and not the other way around. Also, people often operate from only one level, which blocks their ability to change. You can tell at which level people are operating by the language they use.
The phrase “I can’t do that here” neatly encapsulates the hierarchy from top to bottom: I = Identity; Can’t = (limiting) Belief; Do = Capability; That = Behaviour; Here = Environment. Think of a change where you are blocked, then say, “I can’t do that here” to yourself. Which word creates a tug internally? That is the level you are operating from; that is the level where something needs to change.
Dilts’ levels are often used by coaches to help people in this way, or to move up the hierarchy and consider deeper, more meaningful reasons for change. It is a core part of the principles and practice of Neuro-Linguistic Programming: reprogramming our language can help us change. The model is particularly useful in reframing individual mindsets and hence aligning individual change with a higher purpose.
As such it is a very useful technique for organisation development practitioners too.
Recommended Reading: David Molden and Pat Hutchinson (2014) Brilliant NLP, London, Pearson Education