Systems and Structure Pathways and Pitfalls
"Farming looks mighty easy when your plough is a pencil, and you're a thousand miles from the corn field." (his emphasis)
— Dwight Eisenhower, thirty-fourth American president, speech in Peoria, Illinois
Effective systems follow, serve, and support rather than control, direct, and dictate.The central structure and systems alignment question is "for whose convenience isyour organization designed?" Is it to serve customers and those producing for orserving them? Or is it designed to make life easier for management and staff supportgroups? Look at planning, accounting, invoicing, telephone, information technology,and human resource systems. Just whom are they serving? Systems either enslaveor enable. How do people in your organization feel systems are helping or hinderingthem?
Organization structure and systems are clear indications of management's truevalues (regardless of what might be printed on pretty parchment paper). How far dothey really trust people? How enslaving or enabling are people’s responsibilities andboundaries? When people miss performance targets are they coached or replaced?The answers to these questions are found in the degree of decentralization andautonomy in an organization. What do the people in your organization think aboutthe control and autonomy they have?
To what extent is your system and structure aligned with your team or organization'sFocus and Context (vision, values, and purpose)? Your management team needs toagree on the philosophy and approach underpinning any changes to your structureand systems. Get your team to discuss and agree on the key values andcharacteristics shaping your organization’s structure. How far do you want to go witheach one? What are the implications for changes and improvements in your teamand the organization? How can you ensure that the structure and system conclusionsyou arrive at are reflected in your improvement plan? This critical team discussionneeds to take place before you reengineer or restructure your organization.
Form follows function. Let the structure evolve from your strategy, process, andsystems. A strong Context and Focus (vision, values, and purpose) will provide theglue that keeps everyone together. And keeping everyone focused on goals andpriorities will allow more fluidity in organization design.
One of the biggest barriers to decentralization is the skill level of those being givenmore autonomy. The more you push authority and operating responsibilities tooperating teams, the more training and coaching support they'll need.
Ensure your head office is a lean and keen field service center. Turn all staff andsupport functions to face outward to the customers and serve the servers/producers.Train and hold staff people accountable for being coaches rather than controllers.They exist to provide expertise and support. Don't let their constant requests forinformation and internal demands get in the way of people doing the work thatcustomers are paying for.