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The Relationship between 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Many of my clients tell me that they find it increasingly difficult to operate within outdated or dysfunctional structures.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.

This isn’t surprising since the subject is complex and often poorly explained by academics and consultants, finding a practical approach to organizational design can be difficult, although some business schools are attempting to simplify things (pdf).

It is also a pity since structure dictates the relationship of roles in an organization, and therefore, how people function. An outdated structure can result in unnecessary ambiguity and confusion and often a lack of accountability. Structures can be complicated: one British bank where I coach has a clear hierarchy at the top but a complex matrix structure further down which, according to my clients, allows some managers to dodge their responsibilities while others can move troublesome staff around or “exit” them easily.