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Structural Design and Engineering

One of the wonderful things about being a coach is that I meet hundreds of executives who freely share their business and leadership challenges with me. As well as helping me understand how hard it is to run an organization, they show me how they are managing to adapt — or not — to changing organizational structures.

A constant theme during meetings over the last three years has been how globalisation and the economic crisis have forced organizations to rethink their strategies and change they way they operate. From what I can gather, much of this has been “on the hoof,” with companies switching their focus from markets to products or competitors, rather than looking at the big picture. This can result in lots of piecemeal change initiatives rather than looking at the overall organizational design.

I rarely come across leaders who advocate wholesale organizational redesign or use it as a way to support their people and business. When organizational strategy changes, structures, roles, and functions should be realigned with the new objectives. This doesn’t always happen, with the result that responsibilities can be overlooked, staffing can be inappropriate, and people — and even functions — can work against each other.

Often, I see little more than a traditional hierarchy flattening out, perhaps broadening into a matrix structure in parts of the organization. More often than not, though, the hierarchy remains embedded in the “new” structure, which can cut across its effectiveness and leave people confused. Worse, organizations rarely show people how to operate in a new structure, which can also undermine effectiveness.

Many of my clients tell me that they find it increasingly difficult to operate within outdated or dysfunctional structures. My prevailing impression is that organizations either overlook the importance of organizational design or simply don’t know what to do.